Patty Mills enjoying career-best first season with Nets

Patty Mills has won NBA championships and set NBA records, forged a standout career of a dozen years in the league.

So far, none of them have been as good as this one.

At 33 years old, Mills is having a career season, and kept the Nets’ COVID-ravaged roster atop the East.

“Yeah, I think so,” James Harden said when asked if this was Mills’ best stretch. “Obviously people know how many big shots Patty hit when he was in San Antonio consistently; but he has a much bigger role on this team just because we’ve been having all the injuries and dealing with guys being out of the lineup.

“But he’s just been consistent, obviously, with his shot. … He’s doing a better job of just being a playmaker, putting the ball on the floor and getting into the paint. He’s finishing and making plays. He’s more confident.”

Mills comes into Monday’s road game against the Clippers averaging a career-high 14.3 points on .440 shooting from deep, ninth-best in the league.

Patty Mills
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And to Harden’s point, while Mills came into this season having started just 57 games in his career — 36 of them in 2017-18 — the Australian combo guard has already played every single game for Brooklyn as an ironman, and started 17.

“Yeah it could be [my best stretch] maybe in the NBA,” Mills said. “I think production-wise, playing for my country is probably where I tend to play the best as well. But, yeah, possibly.

“A lot of factors go into that I think. But like I said, I’m just having a lot of fun playing with this team and playing with these guys and that’s definitely coming into play as well. So, yeah, possibly.”

Opportunity, system and health are all factors that play a role in production. And Mills has had all of them so far in Brooklyn.

Coming off a Tokyo Olympics that saw Mills carry Australia to its first medal, he left San Antonio’s conservative attack for a team-friendly two-year, $12 million mid-level deal in Brooklyn.

Mills does hold all the cards with a $6.1 million player option next season, but to say it’s worked out for both sides so far is a gross understatement.

“[I] obviously made probably my biggest basketball career decision that I’ve ever made and made the change — along with my wife, which was a huge part of it too,” said Mills. “I’ve been loving it every minute of it basketball-wise and also off the court. And that’s coming out with how I play and the passion I play with and understanding what I’m playing for and the big picture too.

“I’m one of those guys that when I feel that passion and pride in a sense of knowing why I’m playing, then that comes out of me on the court.”

Nets guard Patty Mills (8) reacts with head coach Steve Nash against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Crypto.com Arena on Dec. 25, 2021.
Nets guard Patty Mills (8) celebrates with head coach Steve Nash.
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Irving’s absence and Joe Harris’ injury have helped Mills average a career-high 30.3 minutes. The Nets’ open style has freed him to average 7.5 3-point attempts.

The results have been impressive. Mills poured in a career-high with 34 points on 11 of 17 shooting and seven assists to help beat the Lakers on Saturday.

And one year after Irving set the Christmas Day record with seven 3-pointers to beat Boston, Mills broke it by going 8 of 13 versus L.A.

“Patty’s added so much to our team,” Steve Nash said. “Obviously, we don’t win [Christmas] without him; but so many nights this year, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s just mature IQ, experience, those things you see on the floor, but it’s just the way he approaches the game: his spirit, his mentality.

“He’s added so much to our group, our culture, just by the person he is, by how pure his motives are and how much he wants to win as a group and for his teammates. He’s been unbelievable, not just on the floor, but off the floor as well.”