The depth of the San Antonio Spurs bench is something that has delivered success for over a decade now and up until now Manu Ginobili has been the proverbial head of that snake.
As the team switches gears into the post-Duncan era Ginobilli remains the spiritual leader of the Spurs’ bench, but it’s Australia’s Patty Mills who has emerged as its most vital cog.
Saving this team from sluggish starts and catastrophic collapses has become routine for Mills, finally a contender for Sixth Man of the Year in his eighth season.
“Patty is such a great scorer, and he’s very tough to guard for any team,” center Pau Gasol said.
“He comes off the bench and gives us a huge spark. He was critical for us to win in Dallas. Without him getting hot, probably we would have lost that one. So he’s playing really well, even though I think point guard is not his natural position, he’s trying to do his best at running the team.”
After participating in a Boomers fourth place finish in Rio which, results aside, was perhaps the culminating emotional moment of Patty’s basketball career, Mills has continued that strong form and is playing at the highest level of his NBA career.
The Aussie is posting career highs in everything from scoring (11.6) and assists (3.6) to true shooting percentage (.647) and win shares per 48 minutes (.188).
He has plenty of competition for this year’s award though. Lakers guard Lou Williams is leading the Lakers in scoring off the bench and Rockets sharpshooter Eric Gordon is a vital part of one of this year’s most surprising squads.
As many as eight players are in the running for an award coveted by every backup in the league.
In fact one of the only things that could see Mills miss out on the award is that fact that by clearly out playing Tony Parker this season he may well end up part of the starting unit before seasons end.
Tony Parker running the floor as the Spurs court general is one of the few bankable things left in the NBA, Parker has started in 1,084 of 1,097 games he’s played in his 16-year career in San Antonio.
Parker will also be turning 35 years of age this season and if you take a look at the impact Mills is providing at the point, even Parkers biggest advocate coach Popovich would have to consider moving Mills the starting role.
From a raw numbers perspective, this season, they look like they are practically the same player:
But when you break those numbers down and look at each players efficiency, Mills is better by a mile:
The differences in field goal percentage (2%), three-point percentage (7.6%), and free throw percentage (7.1%) don’t look particularly jarring at first glance.
However, the differences of 12.1% in effective field goal percentage (weighted twos and threes) and 11.4% in true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and freebies) show how significant the gap between the two really is.
As a result, just about all of the one-number advanced metrics skew in Mills’ favor by a fairly noteworthy margin:
Tony Parker Vs Patty Mills (Advanced Statistics)
- Offensive rating: 104 v 122
- Defensive rating: 110 v 108
- Player efficiency rating: 12.4 v 18.9
- Win shares: 0.6 v 2.2
- Win shares per 48 minutes: .069 v .180
- Box plus/minus: -4.1 v 3.0
- Value over replacement player: -0.2 v 0.7
If you didn’t know “Player A” in this scenario was Tony Parker — a six-time NBA All-Star, four-time champion, and shoo-in Hall-of-Famer — there’s almost no way you’d start him over “Player B”, Patty Mills.
Although the stability and leadership that Tony Parker provides may see him remain in the starting role for a while, it’s clear that very few NBA players have the impact that Mills does off the bench, making him a clear candidate for the award.