Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze says Patrick Mills’ star showings in the NBA playoffs will only ‘’add some more numbers’’ to his market value as he prepares to make the biggest decision of his career.
Gaze believes the Canberra product is ready to fill the shoes of injured star point guard Tony Parker after his strong display in San Antonio's series-clinching 104-82 playoff win over Portland on Thursday.
With Parker (hamstring strain) wrapped in cotton wool after just 10 minutes, Mills ensured the Spurs didn't miss a beat with 18 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists in 26 minutes.
Canberra product Mills is a free agent and will soon decide whether to stay at the powerhouse Spurs, or chase bigger money and minutes elsewhere after a breakout season.
“He’s done enough, he’s going to be pretty well looked after, but playing well can only add some extra numbers to the negotiations from here on out,’’ Gaze said.
“Performances in the playoffs, they mean a little bit extra than your run-of-the-mill games.
“His performance today tells coaches, not just with the Spurs but right throughout the league, he’s not going to get overawed by the big occasion.
“Over an extended period of time he’s been able to prove himself throughout the regular season, but the playoffs go to another level.
“Playing well in the big games will be noted.’’
The Spurs will now defend their western conference title against the winner of the Oklahoma City-LA Clippers series.
Should Parker not be fit for series start, Canberra product Mills would play bigger minutes in a mouth-watering point guard battle against either Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul.
But Gaze insists the 25-year-old won't be daunted by the prospect of taking on one of the superstars at the business end of the season.
Mills already has history against Paul on the big stage, having come up against him for the Australian Boomers against the USA ‘'Dream Team'’ the last two Olympics.
After filling a bit part role beforehand, Mills has rewarded the Spurs' greater faith in him with a breakout season, averaging 10.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists a game.
"I don't think Patty's in a situation where he'd be star-struck,'' Gaze said.
"He's been around a while and got that experience. I don't think it'd be something he'd be losing sleep over.
"He'd be excited about the prospect.''
While Parker's benching is thought to be a precautionary measure, he has battled niggling injuries throughout the post-season.
Gaze said it’s unlikely Mills would be promoted to the starting line-up should Parker miss the start of the western conference finals, but he’d play much bigger minutes.
Mills’ outstanding game five display would help reassure coach Gregg Popovich he’d be ready to handle more responsibility as San Antonio looks to go one better than last year’s seven-game series loss to Miami in the NBA finals.
Popovich praised Mills’ display after the match, declaring he'd been a significant factor in setting up another title tilt.
“Patty’s been a significant part of our success all long and tonight was really no different to what he’s done for us all year. He’s been magnificent.’’
Paul praised a then 19-year-old Mills after he scored 20 points in a quarter final against the Americans at Beijing in 2008.
At the 2012 London Games, Paul also noted how Mills relished his greater responsibility with the Boomers.
“Patty wasn’t in the NBA yet back in (Beijing) ’08 and he did an unbelievable job then,’’ Paul said.
“He is an even better player now and he’s a different player with the national team than he is in the NBA.
“He gets to get loose, get going and be the player that he is.’’