When the Nets signed free-agent guard Patty Mills last summer, he was in the midst of leading Australia’s national team to its first medal in Olympic men's basketball, scoring 42 points in the bronze-medal game. Now the infectious energy Mills displayed for the "Boomers" in Tokyo has become part of the fabric of a Nets team that slowly is coming together.
Mills was an eye-catching 10-for-10 from three-point range in the first two games of the season, suffered through a 1-for-6 performance in a loss to the Hornets in the home opener but then rebounded with 21 points in Monday’s win over the Wizards, including 5-for-9 three-point shooting. Mills is a 39.0% career three-point shooter but has converted at a 64.0% rate through the first four games.
He attributed his turnaround from the Hornets game to the Wizards game to a "mindset change, being able to assert myself for a little bit more.
"That is also the thing of getting comfortable and figuring it out on the fly. [Sunday] night’s feeling was just not being able to assert myself, and I felt like I could. I didn’t want to let that happen again. It’s a mindset. As we move on, we are learning more about each other and how to play both ends of the floor."
Mills spent the previous 10 seasons of his 12-year NBA career playing a vital sixth-man role with the Spurs, so he understands how to fit into a winning culture. His connection with Nets general manager Sean Marks, who previously worked for the Spurs, helped lead him to join the Nets.
Signing Mills was one of the coups from last summer’s free-agent market, but his importance to the organization is far larger now since Kyrie Irving is ineligible to play home games because he is in violation of New York City’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, and the team has told Irving he can’t play road games or practice with them until he is eligible for all games.
So Mills has added a much-needed dose of energy and offensive spark the Nets (2-2) surely were counting on when they faced the Heat (2-1) Wednesday night at Barclays Center. And coach Steve Nash also has noted that Mills’ skills at the defensive end are equally valuable. Through four games, he has been plus-30 points in his time on court.
"He’s a winner," Nash said of Mills. "He plays the right way, he’s experienced. Obviously, he’s skilled, but he just brings a great feel to the game with or without the ball. Defensively, he makes our team communicate much better. He organizes us on both sides of the ball. He just brings a lot to the table, and he’s a great addition to our team."
Those thoughts were echoed by Kevin Durant, who went out of his way to welcome Mills to the Nets’ fold when they were in Tokyo for the Olympics. Describing Mills following their win over the Wizards, Durant said, "Professionalism. Just a true pro. Through and through. How he approaches his craft every day is an inspiring thing to anybody, especially when you know the story where he comes from. Just having that energy around every day is amazing. Beating his chest into the crowd, making timely plays underneath the basket, getting steals, playing with energy. We’re going to need that from him."
Durant was referring to the fact that Mills, who is an Aboriginal Australian, has become a folk hero in his homeland because his approach always is to go all out.
"Just try to make an impact on the game whether it is on the defensive end or the offensive end," Mills said. "I think that is something I have hung my hat on."