The Brooklyn Nets pursuit for the 2022 NBA title is off to quite the start and the season has yet to begin.
Due to New York City regulations around unvaccinated persons, it had been determined that superstar guard Kyrie Irving won't be able to take the floor for home games played at the Barclays Center or the team's two road games at Madison Square Garden. While Irving was assumed to be available for the team's practices and 39 road games, Nets general manager Sean Marks announced that the former No. 1 overall pick will not do either until he is eligible to be a full participant.
In Irving's absence, head coach Steve Nash opted to slot Bruce Brown into the starting five in a preseason contest against Milwaukee, with James Harden running point, but this most recent news could mean the most for Brooklyn's prized offseason acquisition, Patty Mills.
We got our first glimpse of Mills in a Nets uniform, when he seeing 19 minutes of floor time against the Bucks, tallying 10 points to go along with two rebounds and three assists.
Given Irving's unavailability, Mills figures to play a major role in the high-powered Brooklyn offence. So much so, that the Australian guard is one of the favourites to take out the Sixth Man of the Year award.
MORE: NBA.com's preseason picks for Sixth Man of the Year
In his first appearance as a Net, Mills attempted seven triples, knocking down two, but the results hardly mattered in his opening preseason run. It was the type of looks the Nets generated for Mills that mattered, as they were generally of the wide-open variety.
It's not to say the Nets wouldn't love to have Irving out on the floor, but his absence hardly diminishes their championship credentials. From an offensive standpoint, the pairing of Kevin Durant and Harden are arguably the two best scorers in the league today. The superstar pair played 301 minutes together during last year's regular season for an offensive rating of 122.1.
Not too shabby.
Perhaps most noteworthy when considering the addition of Mills is Brooklyn's top three-man lineups. The top lineup featured Harden and Irving for an offensive rating of 120.9 in 540 minutes, while the second lineup featured Durant and Irving for an offensive rating of 120.6 in 430 minutes.
The third player wasn't the other missing superstar but rather Joe Harris, which feels very relevant to Mills.
Harris led the NBA in 3-point percentage for players who attempted greater than 150 long-range shots in 2021. According to NBA.com, 56 percent of his 444 attempts were classified as wide or wide-open shots, in which he buried a sizzling hot 52.9 percent.
It's not that the opposition wanted to leave Harris wide open, they simply have no choice when he is the third or fourth option in an insanely talented offence.
The beauty of the Mills addition is that he is more than comfortable playing off the ball. Averaging double-digit scoring last season for just the fifth time in his career, Mills produced those points despite holding the lowest usage percentage of his career at 18.4.
Prior to last season, Mills declared his intent to become a more aggressive scorer, similar to what he has displayed with the Australian National Team. On a middling Spurs squad, Mills was an impact scorer but now he has an opportunity to take it to the next level.
With Irving's absence spanning for an indefinite amount of time, Mills looms as the biggest beneficiary, whether it comes as a starter or as a reserve.
Mills may have just turned 33 years old, but he has the look of a player with plenty left in the tank. While many have wondered what a fully unleashed Mills would look like in the NBA, it's possible that his low minute totals across his career leave him in a strong position to produce his best basketball in the future.
It might not be the ball-dominant, pick-and-roll maestro we see when Mills wears the green and gold, but that doesn't mean it can't be the best version of NBA Patty we have ever seen.
Playing alongside Durant and Harden might allow him to take his game to the next level and ease the minds of Brooklyn fans concerned about whether or not Irving will suit up this season.
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