As the Spurs reeled off their second win of the Rodeo Road Trip, it was one Patty Mills who was the team’s second leading scorer on the night, behind Tim Duncan’s 31. It’s been such an interesting road we’ve gone down with Mills over the last two campaigns.
Last season, Mills was an end-of-the-bench staple. He seldom played, but was just as visible as if he had thanks to his towel-waving skills and knack for being the first guy off the bench to greet teammates returning for a timeout. Coming into the year, he was an afterthought on the rotation. It was Cory Joseph who took a hold of the backup point guard spot late last year and, entering his third season, looked primed to hold on to it.
And then Patty lost a bunch of weight. Not to say that he was overweight before, but the pounds he was able to shed over the offseason—and the haircut—made a striking difference in his appearance on the floor. I don’t know how much the lower body fat percentage helped his game, but showing a dedication to your craft (even when you’re winning a bet) tends to go a long way with coaches, not to say that’s the reason Gregg Popovich gave him first crack at backup point guard.
Mills began the season as the backup to Tony Parker and he’s still filling that role. And here’s the thing: he hasn’t remotely looked in danger of giving up that spot. Party Mills has been one of San Antonio’s most consistent players. He enters the game with energy, creates his own shot and plays active defense, doing those things and not committing too many turnovers are why he’s already played 200 more minutes this season than he did all of last year.
I was in the crowd that thought this was the year Joseph took over as that backup point guard full-time, no longer shuttling back and forth between San Antonio and Austin. I was right about the second part, Joseph hasn’t been with the Toros once this campaign, but the former wasn’t remotely close. Joseph has shown improvement this season, especially since joining the starting lineup when Danny Green and Manu Ginobili went down with injury. CoJo’s shooting was better and looked more confident, and he made passes within the Spurs system that I hadn’t seen before. Good passes.
But Joseph hasn’t come close to unseating Mills. Patty’s nine points and 42 percent 3-point shooting off the bench has been key for a second unit that has been constantly changing all season, and is now without Gary Neal, who left for Milwaukee in free agency. Neal was the one guy who could get off his own shot at will. Mills is that player now, one with the ability to actually defend opposing point guards.
And while it seems like Mills has been around forever, he’s only 25 years old. He came onto the scene years ago when he was lighting dudes up a Saint Mary’s College in California, then got drafted by the Blazers in the second round. That feels like so long ago. At 25 years of age, there’s still room for improvement from Mills, though it will probably come at a price. Patty is in the last year of his current contact with San Antonio.
In Washington, D.C. on Wednesday night, Patty Thrills continued his great year. Parker didn’t play in the second half because of lower back tightness. Tim Duncan fouled out early in the second overtime. Patty scored 23 points on 14 shots, grabbed six rebounds, handed out four assists and turned the ball over just once in only about 20 minutes of action. He even shot five free throws, which is rare for a spot-up/pull-up shoot like Mills.
In the two overtime periods, he scored a combined 11 points to help the Spurs complete the comeback from a 17-point second quarter deficit.
Coming into the season, Mills was a more fun than feared member of the Spurs rotation. Nobody could say a negative word about the guy because he seemed like such a good teammate, even if he seldom got on the floor. This year’s he’s continued his run as likable member of the squad, though it’s come with an increase in playing time. His run as a towel-waving savant isn’t over, but it’s taken a backseat to more visible production.