MIAMI – Patty Mills is a clean, lean, fit, sharpshooting machine for the San Antonio Spurs. If you’ve followed Mills’ career, you’ll notice that he looks a little different this year, and so does his game.
He has been a spark all season long for the San Antonio Spurs and his contribution of timely long-range shots has the Spurs one win away from the franchise’s fifth Larry O’Brien trophy.
In 81 regular season games, Mills averaged 10.2 points and shot a blistering 42 percent from three-point range in a reserve role. If he’s open for a split second, it’s buckets, as the youngsters say today.
Thursday night was no exception with his 14 points in which he was four-of-six from three as he helped the Spurs to an 107-86 blowout victory over the Miami Heat in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 NBA Finals series lead.
These are the good times. It wasn’t always like this. There were two moments in his career where he thought his NBA career might be over. We’ll get into the most recent.
The process and ingredients that led to Mills playing at such a high level probably wouldn’t be the same ingredients he’d recommend for someone else. His recipe includes the understanding of nutrition and the carbohydrates needed, something that would help most, and a trip to the barbershop.
Frustrated with the inconsistent playing time he received last year due to his own doing and a demanding head coach, desperately seeking to shed that “fringe NBA player” label, Mills came into training camp this past season at 5.8 percent body fat. This time last year he says he was at 12 percent. Sporting a new physique also came with a well-groomed appearance. Known for his mildly wild hair and bearded mug, some mocked that he looked much older than he was and heavier. Mills aimed to change that perception.
Samson got weaker when his hair was cut. The opposite holds true for Mills.
“Cutting my hair and beard, I think it worked into having that first impression when I came back from the summer last year for training camp,” Mills told CSNNW.com. “The reaction I wanted everybody to have was, ‘Whoa. Not only has his body changed, but also everything else has changed.’ It was not only my physical appearance, but it was my mindset. I wanted to accomplish and achieve some goals this season and that was the most important thing. That’s why I had to do it. Shave and get fit.”
Australian delicacies such as meat pie, sausage rolls and vegemite were painfully eliminated from his diet. Despite playing in San Antonio, he somehow was able to get a hold of his favorite snacks and goodies.
“I was managing to get it,” Mills admitted. “I don’t know how. Whether it was being sent to me or me finding a store that sold that type of stuff. I was finding it. I was determined. All those treats and snacks really fulfilled me. It’s the food I ate back home. I loved it. Now, it’s normally not a part of my diet.”
Suddenly the five-year veteran has developed a knack for coming off the bench and providing instant productivity, a skill not too many figured he was capable of possessing. It’s due to a couple of factors: If it wasn’t teams holding his rights, disallowing him to play, it was his own body preventing him from reaching his full potential.
The first time he thought his NBA career might be over was during the shortened 2011-12 lockout season when he was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Mills had signed with the Melbourne Tigers of Australia while the lockout was ongoing before departing and playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. He returned to the states in January of that season after suffering an injury.
The Trail Blazers and other NBA teams were interested in his services, however the CBA refused to clear him until after its season concluded. In a helpless situation, all Mills could do was hit the gym and mostly mope countless hours a day on his girlfriend’s couch near his former college of Saint Mary’s.
Severely depressed, Mills would just flop on the couch, staring at the television in agony over the fact that everyone was playing ball and he was relegated to workouts and pickup. The CBA finished its season, but there stood another hurdle.
The Trail Blazers held his rights and their roster was full. Portland wanted to bring him back but they had to waive a player to do so. At that time Raymond Felton, Armon Johnson and Nolan Smith were the point guards on the roster. Two of those players are currently out of the league.
Portland went back and forth on what to do with him for three weeks, time that seemed like eternity for Mills.
“That was a tough time for me,” Mills said. “Yes, I was depressed. I would just lie on that couch and think. That and play ball was all I had time to do. I was out of it. I wanted to get up but had nowhere to go. I honestly didn’t think I’d play in the NBA again.”
Yet still, there was little hope he held onto. He kept the faith. He loves his girlfriend but he wanted off of that couch. That was part of his motivation to keep the faith.
Good news finally came about and his life changed forever. The Trail Blazers renounced their rights to him and he was free to sign with the Spurs. He could now remove himself from the couch and the rest is history. He’s one game away from being a NBA champion. All he wanted before was to be a bonafide NBA player. What’s taking place right now is just extra icing on the cake.
Not that he would want a piece, because that’s not his lifestyle anymore.
“It has been some journey but I’m glad I went through what I went through,” he said. “It made me the person and player I am today. Everything worked out for the best.”