Before the Nets’ season opener against the defending NBA champion Bucks, Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was asked what he expected from a Brooklyn team playing without Kyrie Irving. Without hesitating, Budenholzer predicted free-agent guard Patty Mills would really help them not only on the court but in the locker room.
As it turned out, Mills was the bright spot of the Nets’ 127-104 blowout loss to the champs, scoring 21 points on 7-for-7 shooting from three-point range. Asked after practice on Thursday if the Nets can expect that kind of shooting from him on a regular basis, Mills laughed and said, "Definitely not."
Still, it was a remarkable showing for a player who spent the summer leading the Australian national team to the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics but then showed fatigue in training camp with a 6-for-20 shooting performance, including 2-for-12 from three. But coach Steve Nash predicted Mills would ramp up in time for the regular season, and he did just that.
"I think I was very happy with the buildup stage to get me ready for opening night," Mills said. "But for me and how I like to see it is you set a bar from that standpoint and you continue to grow and build from that."
The Nets are counting on that from Mills, especially after such a shaky start against the Bucks. Next up are the defending Eastern Conference champion 76ers Friday night at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Reflecting on what the addition of Mills means in Irving’s absence, Kevin Durant said of his opening-night performance: "We’re going to need that from Patty. We talked the other day about him being aggressive as a scorer and to be a playmaker. He came out and gave us great energy to start. We’re going to need him to run around and create offense and make shots for others and knock down his shots so everybody’s going to get more comfortable as time goes."
Nash obviously loved Mills’ shooting, but he added, "More so the energy, the IQ, the experience. He plays intelligently. He’s able to complement his teammates so well."
Gaining a comfort level with so many new faces on the roster is the top priority for the Nets early in the season. Mills loves what he described as the "empowering environment" in Nash’s offense that allows the players considerable freedom.
He is one of the new faces, but he comes in with an incredible amount of respect from his teammates for his 12-season career. "I am still feeling my way in," Mills said when asked about his adjustment after spending the previous 10 seasons with the Spurs. "I think it is trying to work out what is needed for the group from my standpoint and how to maximize that opportunity here.
"But having that trust and respect from your teammates is where it starts and that is getting to know guys off the court, even before basketball. It’s a marathon of a season…but nothing really can get done until you gain that trust and respect from your teammates, and you can work out how to evolve from there."
Notes & quotes: Ben Simmons did not take part in a scheduled workout with the 76ers on Thursday even though he was medically cleared after complaining of back stiffness, according to multiple reports. He is not expected to play in the home opener against the Nets.
Mills grew close to Simmons in the past as members of the Australian national team although Simmons did not play in the Tokyo Olympics. Mills hasn’t spoken to Simmons recently, but he said, "As a teammate, as a fellow countryman – although he hasn’t played with us for the Boomers, that’s how I see him – you always wish the best."