It was in the hours before the Brooklyn Nets opened the season in Milwaukee a week ago that Steve Nash offered up a prescient take.
Patty Mills was new to the Nets, a newly minted Olympic medalist heading into 13th NBA season. While conceding the summer workload Mills had in Tokyo during his pregame media session, Nash said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets off to a great start.”
Four games into the season, Mills has delivered exactly that, averaging 14.5 points in 28.5 minutes per game while shooting 52.5 percent overall and 64.0 percent — 16 for 25 — from 3-point range.
“He's a winner,” said Nash after Monday night’s 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards. “He plays the right way, he's experienced. Obviously he’s skilled, but he just brings a great feel to the game, with, without the ball. And defensively, he makes our team communicate better. He organizes us both sides of the ball. So he just brings a lot to the table, and he's a great addition to our team.”
“Professionalism,” said Kevin Durant of what Mills has brought to the group. “Just a true pro. Through and through. Just how he approaches his craft every day is an inspiring thing to anybody especially when you know the story where he comes from. Just having that energy around every day is amazing. Beating his chest into the crowd, making timely plays underneath the basket, getting steals. Just playing with energy. We’re going to need that from him.”
Mills had 21 points in 23 minutes against Washington, making 5-of-9 3-pointers and shooting 8-for-14 overall. He had those moments that Durant mentioned, like midway through the fourth quarter when he stripped a defensive rebound out of the hands of Washington’s Bradley Beal for a quick putback.
That put the Nets up by 19 in a game they had led by as many as 25 points after a quick start that Mills helped fuel. He had 11 points and three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, and when his 3-pointer with 8.6 seconds left in the quarter put the Nets up by 18, Mills exhorted the Barclays Center crowd with a chest bump on his way back up the court.
“Just one of those feel-good moments I think,” said Mills. “It’s great energy in the building already. I think we have from what I have experienced already one of those crowds that we can feed off of when we need to when they are into the game. That blue-collar mentality of how we play, seems like the crowd enjoys. Being scrappy, loose balls, 50-50 balls, charges, that kind of things, that was one of those times I felt good and got the crowd involved.”
The Nets have spent the first week of the season mixing and matching on the court, going big, going small, and generally working through a deep list of lineup combinations. But even as one of nine new arrivals on the roster, Mills has plugged right in as a stable and consistent force. Mills brings over a decade of NBA experience to Brooklyn, and he’s not alone in that regard. It’s a common thread on this roster that attracted him to the Nets and makes it easier for him to fit in.
“I think IQ first and foremost,” said Mills. “Even before getting on the court, everyone’s IQ is very high in how to play the game, understanding how to play with teammates, I think it starts there. So when you walk out on the court now, you make cuts knowing that if you make a good cut here, the ball is probably going to come your way and to be ready for it. I think it is little things like that. If you take control of yourself and you make the right cut or the right screen, then something good will come out of it.”
He's also navigating that fine line of being a veteran with plenty of lessons to offer but also being in a new environment.
‘Having the trust and respect from your teammate is where it starts and that is getting to know guys off the court, even before basketball,” said Mills. “At least starting to. I think it is like we always say, it’s a marathon of a season and you are able to gain some strides in that aspect of things. But nothing can really get done until you gain that trust and respect from your teammates and then you can work out how to evolve from there.”
In that Nets debut a week ago, Mills poured in 21 points while making all seven of his 3-pointers. He followed up with 3-of-3 shooting from deep in Philadelphia on Friday, making him the first player in NBA history to make his first 10 3-pointers of the season. He was off target against Charlotte on Sunday, with the Nets as a group losing the thread offensively in the second half of that loss.
But they all bounced back together with Monday night’s win.
“Just try to make an impact on the game somehow whether it is on the defensive or offensive end,” said Mills. “I think that has always been something that I have hung my hat on especially offensively. If it is not the night, then go make a play defensively and get after, dive for loose balls, create a charge, make an impact that way. I think an all-around type of mentality is the thing that I have tried to have always. I am not too happy with myself when I start to float around and just be out there. That was an adjustment for me personally from last night to tonight.”