Patty Mills Putting Up Career-High Numbers for Brooklyn Nets

In his 13th NBA season, Patty Mills is showing something new.

For a decade in in San Antonio, Mills was the ideal third guard, coming off the bench to run the second unit and good enough to be part of finishing groups as well. The Nets signed him over the summer with the same kind of role in mind. They ended up needing a whole lot more, and Mills has delivered, right up through a brilliant Christmas Day performance in a 122-115 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

“Patty’s added so much to our team,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Obviously, we don’t win tonight without him, but so many nights this year, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s just mature IQ, experience, those things you see on the floor, but it’s just the way he approaches the game: his spirit, his mentality. He’s added so much to our group, our culture, just by the person he is, by how pure his motives are and how much he wants to win as a group and for his teammates. He’s been unbelievable, not just on the floor, but off the floor as well.”

Mills has been the only Net to play all 31 games after having missed just 12 games total over the previous six years in San Antonio. He’s started the last 17, the second-most of his career after getting 36 starts with the Spurs in 2017-18. It’s almost as many as the 21 total starts from his other 11 seasons combined.

With that, Mills is turning in the most productive offensive numbers of his career. He matched his career high with 34 points against the Lakers, making an NBA Christmas Day record eight 3-pointers on 13 attempts and shooting 11-of-17 overall while adding seven assists.

It was the second 30-point outing in the last four games for Mills — the most he’s had in a season in his career is three. He’s topped 20 points 10 times now, a single-season career high, with 51 games left to go. He passed 100 3-pointers made for the season on Christmas night and he’s on a pace to make more than 250, easily surpassing his career high of 161 from last season.

With a bigger role — a career-high 30.3 minutes per game — Mills is averaging a career-high 14.3 points per game while shooting 45.2 percent overall and 44.0 percent from 3-point range, 10th in the NBA. Mills has taken 234 3-pointers this season, while no other player in the top 20 in percentage has attempted even 200.

“People know how many big shots Patty hit when he was in San Antonio consistently, but he has a much bigger role on this team just because we’ve been having all the injuries and dealing with guys being out of the lineup and whatnot,” said James Harden. “But he’s just been consistent obviously with his shot. He’s doing a better job of just being a playmaker, putting the ball on the floor and getting into the paint. He’s finishing and making plays. He’s more confident.”

Is it possible that at age Mills, coming off a career-defining Olympic performance that led Australia to its first-ever Olympic medal, is playing the best basketball of his career?

“Yeah, it could be,” said Mills. “I think maybe in the NBA. I think production-wise, playing for my country is probably where I tend to play the best as well, but to answer your question: Yeah possibly, but a lot of factors go into that I think. But like I said, I’m just having a lot of fun playing with this team and playing with these guys and that’s definitely coming into play as well, so yeah. Possibly.”

While Mills has played all 31 games and the superstar pairing of Harden and Kevin Durant has played 27 each, there’s been a ton of fluidity in availability and rotations beyond them. With Mills putting up the most productive numbers of his career while not missing a game, he’s been a steady and elevating influence as the Nets have been holding steady atop the Eastern Conference with a 22-9 record.

Going into Saturday night’s game, Brooklyn had its previous three games postponed while practicing just once on Friday morning due to health and safety protocols. It didn’t slow them against the Lakers.

“We have been kind of handling adversity throughout the whole season with different types of things – guys being in, guys being out, next man up type of mentality,” said Mills. “So this was no different. Obviously the last past week that we had, it was exciting to get everyone back, not everyone, but some guys back. So there was good energy there. But I think nothing has changed mindset-wise from what we have been doing up until this point. Being able to step up and deliver, I think tonight was a good example of having fun and figuring it out as we go. Nothing is ever going to be smooth sailing but whatever it takes kind of thing. We got a lot of help from the guys that have come in to be able to help hold the fort down for the time being. Obviously our young guys too. We are all about the big picture here and where we want to be at the end of the season and I think that’s really what is keeping us moving forward in the right direction.”

Nash often refers to the “spirit” that Mills brings as central to his value to the team beyond the numbers.

“I think I’m just being me and what I think the team needs and to be able to prepare for a game, I think I just go about the way that I think is best for the team and try to give off that energy and that spirit and that good vibes type of mentality and what it takes to win,” said Mills. “I think that might be what he’s referring to, I don’t know, but for me it’s just being a professional and understanding that preparation goes into it and that can help deliver what it takes to win.”