Coming off Kyrie Irving’s season debut as a road-only player in a comeback win Wednesday at Indiana, Nets coach Steve Nash had to make a decision on how to handle his home-only playing rotation without Irving starting at guard alongside James Harden.
The focus was on how to handle Patty Mills, who started 21 straight games prior to Irving’s return. Would it be best to allow Mills to settle back into a consistent sixth-man role with the second unit or move him back-and forth into the starting unit? Although he admitted worrying about over-taxing him, Nash went back to Mills as a starter against the defending NBA champion Bucks on Friday night at Barclays Center.
Unfortunately for the Nets, Mills scored a mere three points on 1-for-8 shooting in a 121-109 loss to the Bucks.
Asked if it might make more sense to keep Mills in the sixth-man role, Nash explained: "I don’t think we can do that. With Joe Harris out, we just need his shooting ability, experience, facing all those things. But eventually, with Joe coming back, he could find a more comfortable amount of minutes.
"That doesn’t mean he doesn’t play 30-plus some nights, but not all the time where we’re really taxing him. He plays with such pace, plays with such energy that, when he plays in the 30s, it’s a lot."
Perhaps fittingly, the Nets honored Mills with a T-shirt night giveaway Friday night. Mills came into the game averaging a career-high 13.6 points and shooting 42.5% from three-point range in a career-high 30.8 minutes per game.
"For me, the Kyrie situation hopefully helps Patty," Nash said. "I think we’ve seen him kind of almost be overused, and I think it’s been difficult for him at times to continue his level of play because we overburdened him. We have asked him to play a lot of high 30s during this last month or so. Without Joe, without Kyrie, I think that’s a big burden. [If] this can help him stay fresher … would be the bonus of having Kyrie back for Patty."