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San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich: '(Patty Mills) is one of the greatest teammates ever'

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Patty Mills, Gregg Popovich [NBA Getty Images]

It was a whirlwind of an offseason for the San Antonio Spurs.

First, Tony Parker decided to sign with the Charlotte Hornets in free agency following 17 unforgettable seasons with the franchise. The Spurs then traded away their franchise player in Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan just before the final remaining piece from their run of domination, Manu Ginobili, announced his retirement.

The Spurs' franchise has reigned greatness for over two decades under head coach Gregg Popovich, appearing in the NBA playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons.

All of a sudden, a locker room that was filled with familiar faces for years got a makeover.

And that makeover made Aussie guard Patty Mills the longest-tenured player on the team.

Mills' leadership and presence was called on immediately, too.

Three games into the preseason, Spurs' starting point guard Dejounte Murray, a 2018 All-Defensive selection and the player whom had "received the torch" from Parker, went down with a season-ending injury.

2018 first round pick Lonnie Walker and second-year player Derrick White (who Popovich had named the starting point guard after Murray's injury) both suffered injuries shortly thereafter.

That left Mills, second-year undrafted guard Bryn Forbes and newly acquired veterans DeRozan and Marco Belinelli as the only guards on the roster.

Not an ideal start for the fairly new Spurs' locker room but nevertheless, they prevailed.

Mills has been a constant for San Antonio all season - he has appeared in all 76 games, entering 75 of those 76 contests off the bench. In fact, no player in the NBA this season has played in every game with less starts than Mills.

"He's steady," coach Popovich told NBA.com's Gilbert McGregor about the Aussie. "He leads our energy and our offence off the bench."

Forbes assumed the role as the team's starting point guard with Popovich electing to keep Mills in his role he's fulfilled throughout his eight-year tenure in San Antonio.

His per game numbers don't jump off the page and he's not putting up any career-highs, but he's doing exactly what the Spurs need him to do.

He's shooting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc and according to NBA.com, he has helped the Spurs outscore their opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, giving him the second-highest net rating on the team.

That, along with his guidance and continuity is what has been invaluable to the Spurs' locker room.

"He's one of the greatest teammates ever," Popovich preached to NBA.com's McGregor.

"He's always ready to help out, to make people feel comfortable and he's just continued that," Pop stated. "He's always ready to play the leadership role and helps us in every way that he can."

And that role will be even more important in a few weeks when the playoffs start.

Mills has never missed the playoffs in his 10-year NBA career. He and the Spurs have just clinched their franchise's 22nd consecutive postseason appearance on Sunday after the Sacramento Kings fell to the Houston Rockets.

Mills and Belinelli, who were teammates in San Antonio when they won the NBA title in 2013-14, are the only two players on the team that have ever won a championship.

They're actually two of just six players on the roster (Jakob Poeltl, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dante Cunningham and DeRozan) who have ever won a playoff series.

So while Patty's experience has paid off in helping the Spurs get back to the postseason again, he'll be called upon to lead by example if they're going to make any sort of noise to get out of the first round and beyond.

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