When the news broke that Kyrie Irving could miss the entire 2021-22 season because of his vaccination status, the Brooklyn Nets‘ championship hopes immediately took a major hit. The nearly $122 million due to Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden this season is more than what the Nets owe the rest of their roster combined, so Brooklyn needs its Big Three on the court if it wants to compete for a title.
But with Irving watching Tuesday night’s season opener from the couch, Patty Mills stepped up in his absence and quickly proved that the Nets’ $12 million offseason bargain might just save the season.
The Nets signed Patty Mills to a $12 million contract this summer
With nearly $122 million due to their Big Three this season, the Nets didn’t have many options in free agency. Brooklyn couldn’t afford to sign another superstar, so the team decided to bolster its roster with cheap veterans instead.
One of those veterans was Patty Mills, the longtime San Antonio Spurs sharpshooter with loads of playoff experience. In August, the Nets signed Mills to a team-friendly two-year contract worth just over $12 million.
It only took one game with his new team for Mills to prove he was a steal at that price.
The Nets just found a $12 million diamond in the rough in Patty Mills
Brooklyn didn’t look too impressive in Tuesday night’s season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets shot 53% from deep and got 52 points from Durant and Harden combined, but they struggled from the free-throw line (56%), committed 12 turnovers, and were out-rebounded 55-44.
The night ended in a 127-104 drubbing at the hands of the reigning champs, but it wasn’t all bad for Brooklyn.
Mills was arguably the best player on the court for the Nets all night long. The former Spur came off the bench and poured in 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 7-of-7 from three, and he finished the game with the highest plus/minus mark on the team (+7).
By going 7-of-7 from deep on Tuesday night, Mills tied the Nets franchise record for threes made in a game off the bench, and he also tied the NBA record for threes made in a debut with a new team, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
But it wasn’t just his stellar shooting that jumped out against the Bucks. The 33-year-old ran a new offense like the seasoned veteran he is, and he didn’t record a single turnover all night. When he wasn’t burying catch-and-shoot threes, Mills was creating for his teammates and opening up the floor for Durant and Harden to do damage in 1-on-1 situations.
Impressive is an understatement for Mills’ Brooklyn debut.
Lessening the pain of the Kyrie Irving disaster
It will be impossible for the Nets to replace Kyrie Irving this season. The guy is a stone-cold killer late in games and one of the purest scorers in the NBA today. Even if Mills goes 7-7 from deep every game and never turns the ball over again, he’ll never be able to match what Irving brings to this team when he’s on the court.
That being said, the Nets still have enough talent without Irving to compete for a title this year, but they’ll need their role players to step up behind Durant and Harden. Mills has shown throughout his 12-year NBA career that he can be a key piece to a championship team, and he can do the same this season.
This offense suits Mills perfectly. With Durant and Harden demanding most of the attention, Mills could have a career year shooting open spot-up threes all season long.
Mills won’t completely mask the devastating absence of Irving, but the Nets’ $12 million investment could turn out to be the best money they spend all year.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.