The praise that Patty Mills received during this past August's Summer Olympic games was extraordinary. Team Australia was merely a blip on the radar and never really threatened the eventual-champion Team USA but everyone was enthralled with the 6-foot St. Mary's point guard. To his credit, Mills scored 20 points against the likes of Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and the rest of Team USA and had three great steals in Australia's 31 point loss. So...if Chris Paul and the best of the United States can't stop him...how can Gonzaga?
When Thursday comes around, the Zags will have the unenviable task of trying to find a way to stop Mills. At this point in the season, Patty is averaging 18.7 points a game and four assists. His stat line is obviously very impressive but there is one major thing that sets apart Mills from the rest of the WCC and that is his speed. There is no player in this conference that can match Patty Mills, save for MAYBE Gonzaga's Demetri Goodson but Mills' skill set is much more refined than Meech's. If Chris Paul is raving about his speed, he's got to be doing something right. Speed is worthless if you don't have the stamina to back it up and Mills definitely has plenty of stamina. He is second in the conference in minutes played per game with around 34 mpg. For the amount of movement he does on the court, this is an outstanding statistic. It'll be interesting to see if he can sustain himself throughout the year. Usually his minutes per game tend to peak around this time of the season and then decline from now until March. This probably happens because Mills does get tired as the year drags on and because St. Mary's, like Gonzaga, tends to blow out the lower tier of the WCC so Mills' services are not needed as much.
continue reading after the jump for more on Patty Mills...
He's a Thief
A benefit of speed is the ability to be one step ahead on defense and Mills is a prime example of this. He's got 47 steals in 19 games for an average of about 2.5 a game. This far exceeds anyone else in the WCC as Matt Bouldin is second in steals with 29 in 18 games for an averaging of about 1.6 a game. Mills is a supreme defender who is one of those guys that teams hate playing because of his style of defense. He's able to get in your face and pressure the hell out of you so you make bad decisions. He may pick up a few fouls here and there because of it but he's very smart about it, in fact he only has about 1.5 fouls per game. He has been on an absolute tear in the past three games, where he has ten steals. Take everything in the WCC with a grain of salt but Mills is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. This could be a major issue for the Zags as Jeremy Pargo has had some trouble with turnovers recently. Mills won't give Pargo or any of the other Gonzaga guards any sort of cushion so ball-handling will be a huge factor in this game.
Percentages and Ratios don't really matter to him
Patty Mills utilizes the 'good shooters just keep shooting' mantra a lot. If we are looking at straight percentages, his stats are not extremely impressive. At the same time, however, they are not completely telling. In our beloved West Coast Conference, Mills is third in field goals made per game. This is impressive and you would expect it to lend itself to a nice field goal percentage but that is not the case. Mills is 20th in the conference in field goal percentage at a mediocre 42.4%. His field goal percentage is actually .5% lower than it was a season ago. Some of his game stat lines are eye-opening. He's had games where he shoots 9-22, 5-20, 9-23, and 10-24. These are NBA type stat lines because you rarely see college basketball players shoot this much. He's second in the conference in field goals attempted so there is no denying his affinity for the jumper. It's the same story with his three-point shooting. Mills is not in the top-15 in three-point field goal percentage but he is second in three-pointers made. Patty shot VERY poorly in one game that mattered and that was the game they lost to UTEP. He shot 5-20 and the team looked completely lost without their star Olympian leading them. This should be a blueprint for success for Gonzaga.
One caveat of outstanding speed is the knack for committing turnovers and Mills has his fair share. He's got 60 turnovers on the season for an average of 3.2 a game. When you balance that out with assists, we get a 1.27 assist/turnover ratio. This sits nicely at fifth in the conference but he is well behind Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo who has 106 assists compared to 50 turnovers for a 2.1 assist to turnover ratio which is decent nationwide (UNC's Ty Lawson leads the nation with an outstanding 3.7 A/T ratio).
What does it all mean for Gonzaga?
There are two very different extremes this game could go and I think that it all starts with the play of Patty Mills. When I first thought about writing this topic I was excited because I wasn't concerned about Gonzaga stopping Patty Mills. Gonzaga has been outstanding defensively this season. As we sit today, the Zags are the second best team in the nation at defensive field goal percentage at 36%. The major weakness of star-guard Patty Mills is his average field goal percentage. I thought right away that this had to be a major strength for Gonzaga in Thursday's game. I mean, if we are able to hold Patty Mills to 40% in this game, I think Gonzaga wins relatively easily. He's going to shoot a bunch. I'll be interested to see what Randy Bennett does with Mills. In the past, St. Mary's has gotten great efforts from their supporting cast in wins versus Gonzaga so I think a major factor in this game will be the number of attempts Mills has. If he has 15-20, Gonzaga dominates but if he shoots 6-11 times and distributes the ball, the Zags could be in trouble.
There is another extreme I could see this game going and this one is not so Zag-friendly. For some reason when I think of Patty Mills and his impact on the game, I go straight to visions of A.J. Price, Jeremiah Dominguez, and Nic Wise. These three very good point guards torched Gonzaga and they all resulted in losses. Wise scored 21 points and was 4-6 from three-point land, Dominguez had 25 points and was 7-10 from three, and AJ Price had 24 points and was 6-9 from three including one which virtually defeated the Zags and sent the game into overtime. Those three stat lines are hard to read for any Gonzaga fans and you can bet that Patty Mills is sitting in Moraga licking his chops hoping he has a similar night. Price, Wise, and Dominguez are above average guards in the NCAA and they are probably three of the best guards Gonzaga has played. Mills is right up there with those three and that worries me. If Mills gets off like these three did, Gonzaga will be in all sorts of trouble because he's a streak shooter and can really get hot at any point, just ask Santa Clara. Gonzaga has to be committed when they guard the perimeter with him. I can imagine no way Gonzaga loses this game if Mills shoots 8 threes and only makes two. But if he gets hot and goes 6-9, 7-10, or something like that, I don't see a way Gonzaga wins.