Despite his stellar start to the season, Patty Mills is being used on the bench, even when starter Tony Parker is not available. Here is the reason why.
Tony Parker has missed eight games so far this season, and the 15 games that he has played, he has averaged 9.3 points and 4.4 assists. These numbers are not what we are used to seeing from the French superstar.
Mills has started four of the games that Parker has missed and there has been a little bit of noise around saying that it might be time for Mills to start instead of Parker. Fortunately for the Spurs Gregg Popovich is the coach of the Spurs and not some media scribes.
Popovich is loving his second unit. Their movement is better than the starters and most of the time, the second unit has had to bring the Spurs back into games. Who is in charge of the second unit? Australian point guard Patty Mills. So why not start you may ask? He is fourth on the team in points per game, his distribution is excellent.
Mills game seems to work best when he is the focal point of the scoring. When he starts, Mills appears to defer to other starters. Kawhi Leonard is one of the best basketball players on the planet, LaMarcus Aldridge is 76th all time in points per game and Pau Gasol is one of the best internation players of all time who has been a walking double double for years now. Even shooting guard Danny Green is fourth all time in three pointers made for the Spurs.
Most of the time, Mills game becomes muted by the level of talent around him. The reason Parker is successful is that he has been a superstar and has the presence associated with that. When Mills is in the second unit, he knows that the offense runs through him to be successful. Not only is he involving other players but his shooting is incredible. Mills is shooting 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep.
What Popovich appears to be doing with Mills is similar to what Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr is doing with Andre Iguodala. Iguodala is good enough to start but Kerr seems to like his impact when coming off the bench. Even when Harrison Barnes was injured last season for an extended period of time Iguodala did not start. Lesser known player Brandon Rush got the job and the Warriors continued to roll every team in their path.
Popovich loves the spark, locves the energy that Mills gives and he does not want to lose that from his second unit, particularly when the first unit is giving up leads that the second unit need to peg back.
Mills is in the final year of his contract and is playing impressively enough to demand a much higher payday next year. I believe that the Spurs will do everything possible to keep Mills. There were a number of suitors the last time that Mills contract was up. Despite the knowledge that Mills was going to miss the first half of the season with shoulder surgery, San Antonio locked him up as early as they could. I can see the same thing happening again.