Photo: Greg Baker, AFP/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO – Patty Mills’ star turn with Australia at the FIBA World Cup this summer was good for his soul, not to mention his shooting stroke.
After averaging a team-best 22.8 points and shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range (22 of 57) in eight games for the Boomers, Mills leads the Spurs in bench scoring with a 12.6 average and is shooting a team-best 50 percent (22 of 44) from beyond the arc.
“I always enjoy going back to play for them, mostly because it’s what I am comfortable with,” said Mills, who averaged 9.9 points last season filling a variety of backcourt roles for the Spurs.
During the World Cup, Mills played in a starting perimeter look that included Utah’s Joe Ingles and Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova. With those two taking on a lot of the ball-handling chores, Mills thrived as a shooting guard.
“It’s a role I can stretch out and be me in a way, so a summer of playing with Australia was definitely a reminder of who I am and prepared me to stay in that mindset coming back here,” said Mills, who is tied for eighth in the NBA in 3-point accuracy.
Picking up where he left off with the Boomers, Mills has scored 16 or more points in three of the last five games, including a season-best 31 in a 127-110 win over Golden State on Nov. 1 and 20 in Saturday’s 135-115 loss to Boston.
Per 36 minutes, Mills is averaging 21.6 points per game. As he did with the Boomers, he’s played a lot off the ball while Dejounte Murray and Derrick White play the point.
“He was tough,” White said of Mills’ play for Australia, which included pumping in 30 points to lead the Boomers to a 98-94 exhibition win in August over the Gregg Popovich-coached Team USA squad that also included White.
“He was looking good then and he came into (training camp) ready to go,” White said. “I think it helped him, just getting him mentally prepared. He played a lot of minutes out there and came in ready to go.”
After playing so much this summer and with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looming, Mills, 31, was asked if World Cup players will be in need of load management this season.
“It’s a fair question,” he said. ”But I don’t think that has any consideration with what we are trying to do here. Obviously, we don’t want anyone to get injured or have the risk of injury from overuse, so we just got to be careful. But (the Spurs) have always done a good job of being able to keep guys fresh and keep guys going for the playoffs.”