Plus-minus is not a perfect stat. In small sample sizes, it often can be tossed aside because of the randomness that can warp its numbers.
But the longer the season goes on and the more things balance out, the more significant it becomes. Through 16 games, it isn’t Kevin Durant or James Harden who has been a part of the most success while on the floor for the Nets.
Brooklyn has been 92 points better than its opponents when Patty Mills is on the court.
Without Kyrie Irving dominating the ball and in the absence of sharp-shooting Joe Harris, whose ankle injury has kept him out two games, the Nets have relied more upon Mills than they intended when they signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason that looks more like a steal with each game.
Mills, the longtime Spur playing in his 13th season, has become the ideal wing to flank stars who draw defenses’ attention. He barely is shooting from inside the arc, and his 30.6 percent mark on 2-pointers is the worst of his career. But the marksman is draining 47.9 percent from deep, which was second in the NBA (behind Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, who had attempted just 29) entering play Thursday.
Mills is 17-for-29 from 3 in his past three games and only seems to be getting more comfortable with his role in the Nets’ offense — a role that is changing. He always seems to find his niche regardless of whom he is playing with.
Since the Nets lost Harris, who is expected to miss a few more games, Mills has been a starter.
“It’s different for sure. Obviously with who I’m playing, but it’s a challenge in itself to be able to work out how to get a rhythm, how to impact the game,” the 33-year-old said after Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers. “You just got to keep learning on the fly, I guess.
“I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m in such a great learning environment from the people that I keep bugging and asking questions on how I can develop and get better, from the coaches and coaching staff to the players.”
Mills continues to adjust his style of play based on what his team needs. Early in his career, he was a slasher who could control the pace and provide a spark off the Spurs’ bench while backing up Tony Parker.
In the Olympics this summer, he showed he could be a go-to scorer, leading his native Australia to its first ever medal in men’s basketball, winning a bronze thanks to Mills’ 42-point explosion.
His NBA game has been moving farther from the rim as he has aged and as the league has evolved. In the 2012-13 season, he took 2.2 3s per game, and is up to 5.9 this campaign.
He began the season coming off the bench with the second unit and contributing. Now he is blending in with the starters and fitting in as a catch-and-shoot option for Durant and Harden.
Whoever surrounds him, he finds how best to help.
“It’s about finding the chemistry on the court and where you can get to your spots and where you can find open ones,” said Mills, whose Nets host the Magic on Friday.
Heck, he even made due and adjusted in a situation Wednesday that seemed impossible. He rushed back on defense to fill a lane, protected the hoop and found himself between the rim and Cleveland’s Tacko Fall. The 7-foot-5 center caught the entry pass and might not have noticed the fly below him until its pestering brought down his left arm.
The foul was called, but Fall was kept from a sure dunk. Mills found his niche as a gnat when needed.
After the game, he was asked about a cold shooting streak that has been followed by this sizzling streak.
“I just moved to New York. I haven’t got any warm clothes yet to be able to stay warm,” Mills said with a smile.
Maybe gloves, though, for a hot hand.
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