Over the course of his 14 seasons in the NBA, Patty Mills has established himself as a valuable teammate both on and off of the basketball court. Though he spent the last two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, the 35-year-old Aussie is perhaps best known for the 10 seasons he spent in San Antonio prior to his stint with the Nets, where he served as a reliable cog off of the bench and a behind the scenes conduit of the much-renowned Spurs’ culture.
Spurs’ head coach, Gregg Popovich, had some glowing comments when speaking about Mills’ time in San Antonio:
“As a basketball player, he has gone off the charts with development. But as a human being and as a member of our society and a leader on our team. He has been fantastic.”
“He embodies empathy, awareness, [and] an ability to be actionable after he speaks about things.”
Dejounte Murray, who played alongside Mills’ during his time in San Antonio, was all smiles when talking about being reunited with his former teammate at Hawks’ media day last week, saying:
“I made sure his locker was next to mine… that’s one of my vets, a great friend of mine. I look at him as family. Even bringing him to the team, when I was talking to Landry and Quin and all those guys… he’s a hard worker, he’s a great guy, it’s almost like he’s perfect. Nobody’s perfect, but he’s a high energy guy, high character, like I said he works hard. He’s only going to affect everybody around the organization in a great way.”
Mills career “per-game” averages of 9 points (on 56.4% True Shooting), 2.3 assists, 1.7 rebounds, and 1 turnover in just over 20 minutes a night won’t sweep you off your feet, however that’s just fine by him, as one of his greatest assets is the ability to identify what is needed from him by the team, then fill that role to a tee – irrespective of how it looks on the box score. In a 2021 interview on the JJ Redick podcast, Mills spoke about the value of putting the team ahead of personal aspirations.
“I think that [San Antonio] was where I learnt a lot to come in and figure out what’s my one piece that I can do that’s going to make the team great, and it’s something that’s different than what Tim Duncan does, it’s different than what Tony Parker does and Manu Ginobli… and finding that out myself and being able to implement it, you feel the impact and you feel those guys feed off it. So I think it’s just understanding how to win, what you need to do to win, how to bring the group together.”
“I think you’ve got to throw your ego out the door when you’re understanding the purpose and winning and championships and all that; and when you get a locker room that is all on the same page like that, it’s fun basketball.”
Mills won the 2014 NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs - pouring in 31 points across games four and five to send LeBron James and Co. packing. He knows what it takes to get to the proverbial mountain top. Through his own words, as well as those of his coaches and peers, it’s apparent that the knowledge and leadership qualities that Mills has accumulated over the course of his career (which includes 955 playoff and regular season appearances and counting!) will be extremely valuable for this Hawks roster that was somewhat lacking in the “veteran leadership” department last season*.
*Atlanta had just three players with more than five years of NBA experience on their roster in 2022-23 in Justin Holiday, Frank Kaminsky and Clint Capela. Holiday and Kaminsky were traded at the trade deadline for Garrison Matthews and Bruno Fernando - who are both entering their fourth NBA season.
Taking a look at how Mills’ fits on the basketball court for this 2023-24 Atlanta squad, Hawks’ General Manager, Landry Fields, was quick to peg Mills as more of a 2 than a 1 at media day, saying that he views him as “more of a shooting guard” when asked about his potential role. Mills is no stranger to playing as an off-ball guard, having played over 50% of his minutes at the 2 during his time in Brooklyn, and there’s no denying that his selfless play-style and three-point shooting ability (38.9% for his career, on 4.5 3pa’s per game) would help provide space in the half-court for Young and Murray to wreak havoc.
That being said, Mills is not a positive-level defender at this stage in his career, and when you consider the fact that the Hawks have a surplus of guards on their roster - some of whom are more defensive-minded options than Mills in Wesley Matthews, Trent Forrest, and perhaps, rookie second-round pick, Seth Lundy - he could be facing a bit of an uphill climb for minutes at the 2 next season, as perimeter defense will likely be the priority if and when Quin Snyder reaches past his top nine next season.
Given his experience playing point guard in San Antonio however, Mills is likely to be a leading candidate to fill in at the 1 should one of Trae Young or Dejounte Murray miss time next season. Even though Fields kept his cards close to his chest when speaking about third point guard options at media day, mentioning Trent Forrest and Kobe Bufkin alongside Mills as potential options should the need arise, Mills has played more NBA minutes at the 1 than the rest of Atlanta’s bench unit combined, and is far more qualified* than either Forrest or Bufkin to step in and run the offense in a pinch.
*No disrespect to Forrest or Bufkin, who are both young and could prove to be capable of handling primary ball-handling duties as the season progresses, but Forrest has been utilized in more of an off-ball role on the offensive end of the court during his time in the NBA, while Bufkin’s first time playing point guard was in the 2023 Summer League. Of the three players, Mills is the safest option to slot in at the 1.
Even though Mills’ on-court role for next season is yet to be determined, whether he plays 100 minutes or 1,000 minutes next season, he is sure to be a valuable voice in the locker room, and an excellent role model for the younger players on the Hawks’ roster to look up to both on and off the basketball court.
Disclaimer: All statistics/videos used in this article are from either basketballreference.com, pbpstats.com, nba.com/stats, bball-index.com, or cleaningtheglass.com.