Coming off a physically taxing postseason run for Tony Parker that extended into a Eurobasket title this summer, the question of who will back up the 31-year-old French point guard has become more pressing than ever. There are currently three guys capable of filling that role: Cory Joseph, Nando de Colo and Patty Mills.
This preseason we've seen quite a bit of what the first two can do and, if you've been watching the same games I have, you continue to hold out with bated breath. While Joseph has shown that he can limit his mistakes on the offensive end, he seems already resigned to low-risk, low-reward status. But will his low turnover average even make much of a difference when he's deferring to Manu and Boris' wily decision-making anyway?
Meanwhile, De Colo is pointed in quite the opposite direction, being equal parts confident and careless. Though he shows the ability to produce the occasional highlight, the benefits of his freewheeling style of play could be thwarted by the possibility that he might not actually be that good. At 26, de Colo is the oldest of the three bench players (Joseph is 22, Mills 24) and would seem to have the least amount of unrealized potential.
What we haven't seen nearly enough of lately is what the third option, Patty Mills, could bring as the point guard for the second unit.
Of the three, no player has a higher offensive ceiling than Mills. He's the only backup with a reliable outside shot - an essential skill in the Spurs offense. In two years playing in San Antonio, Mills has shot 41% from three-point range. He also has the ability to drive and finish in traffic or find the open teammate.
At the end of the 2011-2012 season we saw Patty's potential in the form of a 34-point, 12-assist outburst when he started in place of Tony against the Warriors. This followed a 27-point game the day before. Watch the highlights and tell me if CoJo or Nando can bring anything close to this kind of dynamic play:
Local reporters often throw around preseason stories that boast about a player being in a contract year, or who looking fitter than ever, only to have these rhetorical boomerangs come back to strike them when the player doesn't produce. But hey, Mills is in a contract year! And he is in the best shape of his career!
The knocks on Mills are, understandably, his defense and his lack of playmaking ability. Let's dispel the latter first.
Defensively, Mills' shortcomings aren't as big an issue as one would think. Thanks to having bigs who play the pick-and-roll so well, the point guard position is the easiest one to make up for on the Spurs, which has allowed Tony Parker, never considered to be an imposing defender, to be a part of one of the league's strongest defensive units. Mills won't be facing the top-flight play-makers Parker does, and shouldn't be a liability on that end.
Mills isn't a traditional point guard. His per-36-minute averages are 17.4 points per game and only 4.5 assists. Luckily he'd be playing in a second unit that includes Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw, all excellent passers who can keep the ball moving. Mills would fit in very well with these guys, providing ample spacing and still serviceable ball-handling abilities.
With the age and low upside of the team's core players - Kawhi excluded - the Spurs can't afford to limit themselves any more when it comes to their potential, especially on the offensive end. That means giving meaningful minutes to the players that are most capable of producing. And in the case of the backup point guard situation, that means going with Patty Mills.
Hopefully, with the roster trimmed to 14, Coach Pop will give Patty Mills a proper look in the remaining two games of the preseason.
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