Patty Mills went from towel-waver to key free agent in only a year. Mills' fearless shooting and relentless defensive pressure has made him one of the top backup point guards in the league, and could make him a target for a lot of teams looking for backcourt help. So should the Spurs retain him?
Patty Mills, shooting guard?
Patty Mills had an over 20% assist percentage in his first three years in the league, which is common among point guards. He was never an elite set-up man, but he assisted at an acceptable rate. Last season he assisted on only 15.3% of his teammates' field goals while on the floor, despite having a significant 22% usage percentage. When Patty touched the ball, he shot it. He only trailed Parker in shots per 36 minutes. That combination of shot frequency and secondary creation is much more common in shooting guards than lead guards.
Mills was ridiculously efficient at it, thanks to his great outside shooting. He was fantastic on spot-up situations, averaging 46.5% 3-point field-goal percentage, and was very reliable shooting from beyond the line as a pick-and-roll ball handler (39.5%) and in transition (44.1%). If he is chased off the 3-point line, he has a very reliable mid-range jumper. He doesn't get to the rim much except in transition because he understands his limitations, but is opportunistic on his drives. Mills is a scorer and that's just what the Spurs needed him to be.
San Antonio had other creators in that second unit. Manu Ginobili assisted on 29% of his teammates' buckets when he was on the court and Boris Diaw on 16%. By playing next to two playmakers of that quality, Mills was able to focus on doing what he does best instead of trying to be a prototypical point guard, a role that simply doesn't fit his strengths.
Fortunately, the Spurs will retain Ginobili, so as long as he doesn't miss a lot of time, there is not much risk involved with bringing Mills back. That combination simply works. And they have a more traditional PG waiting on the bench in Cory Joseph if the matchups call for it.
But teams that don't have one or two creators to pair Mills with should stay away from him. It's simply not coincidental that he had his best season playing as a shooter. That's where his strengths lie and that won't likely change any time soon.
Can Patty give us a repeat performance?
Mills didn't just find himself in a perfect situation to take advantage of his talent thanks to the presence of Ginobili and, to a lesser degree, Diaw. He was also used perfectly in terms of role and playing time. As a 20-minute-a-game back-up, Mills was free to gun without having to pace himself and could use a lot of energy pressing the opponent's backup full court. And because he was making very little money and came out of nowhere early in the season, there were zero expectations early on. The circumstances for Mills' breakout year were perfect.
Obviously a change of scenery would bring with it a lot of questions about fit and role. And a bigger contract will carry with it a new set of expectations. But even if he stays with the Spurs, there might be new challenges ahead for Patty.
Ginobili is playing with the Argentinian national team this summer, which means he will probably see his minutes reduced and will get some nights off, all the better to prevent injuries. But that might not be enough and Manu might miss serious time. What happens to Mills then? Patty was significantly better with Manu on the court. Playing him in two-point guard lineups next to Parker could work on offense, but will force him out of his comfort zone on defense. And it's also possible that his role is reduced instead of expanded. Joseph has showed progression in his game and could earn some steady minutes. Can the two play together? Are there enough minutes to go around?
The situation with Tiago Splitter, in which he was re-signed to a significant contract but wasn't asked to do anything he wasn't capable of simply because he was highly compensated, leads me to believe the team would handle a potential Mills raise the same way. But what about Patty's expectations? He's still a young guy. He might want to try and figure out if he's more than just a shooter.
No matter what happens, if he stays or if he leaves, a lot will change for Mills next season.
Should the Spurs retain Mills?
Absolutely, as long as the money is not outrageous. There are legitimate concerns about his potential effectiveness in a different role. If Ginobili gets hurt or Joseph carves into his minutes, what Patty did last season will be meaningless in terms of how he fits with the team. But it's impossible to foresee those things happening at this point. And if nothing unexpected happens, Mills will be the ideal point guard for the Spurs' second unit. It's unlikely Mills develops into a traditional point guard or an elite scorer. But the Spurs don't need him to.
He's also just 25 years old and unless his 3-point shot abandons him, he will be easily tradeable if things don't work out with the Spurs. So the risk is minimal.
Considering the great fit with his teammates on the floor and with the culture of the franchise off the floor, it would be foolish to let Mills walk if it's at all possible to retain him on a reasonable salary.
Here's where things get tricky. Ideally, Mills signs a three-year, $13 million contract. That deal would be short enough to be tradeable and low enough in terms of dollars that it wouldn't really affect the Spurs' cap situation in a major way. There's also precedent, with J.J. Barea getting a similar deal after helping the Mavs win a title. It's a reasonable contract.
But Mills might want more. This will be his first big contract. He might want to secure a longer deal or more money. Whether that's rational or not with all those other quality point guards in the market remains to be seen. But the Spurs might not be willing to be too patient, considering they have Joseph waiting in the wings.
Hopefully, both parties come to an agreement early, because Mills and the Spurs need each other.