Analyzing Sixers' reported interest in trading for Patty Mills

Noah Levick
·3 min read

Analyzing a reported trade possibility for the Sixers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Since the Sixers first acquired him, it always seemed possible that Josh Richardson would be one-and-done with the team. 

The 27-year-old guard is under contract for $10.9 million next season and has an $11.6 player option for the 2021-2022 campaign. He had some positive moments last year, but injuries, diminished effectiveness as a facilitator and more misses than usual on wide-open three-pointers prevented him from building on his career-best 2018-19 season with the Heat (see story). 

On Thursday, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported on a potential trade involving Richardson. The Sixers, per O’Connor, have interest in the Spurs’ Patty Mills.

“League sources say (the Spurs are) shopping point guard Patty Mills, with teams such as the Bucks and Sixers expressing interest,” O’Connor writes in his latest mock draft. “A deal with Philadelphia would probably bring back Josh Richardson, league sources say.”

Would this be a sensible trade for the Sixers? One factor to consider is that the 32-year-old Mills is only under contract for one more season, at $13.3 million. There’d be little commitment for the Sixers, who'd be hoping Mills would be a better fit than Richardson in 2020-21.

And he might be. In five of the past seven seasons, Mills has shot over 40 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. He was in the 84th percentile in terms of efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball handler last season and the 78th percentile the year prior. The 6-foot guard doesn’t turn the ball over a ton, initiates offense and is very speedy. A partnership with fellow Australian Ben Simmons could be fun, as well as dangerous, and help with Doc Rivers’ goal of increasing the Sixers’ pace. For all of his talents, Richardson often faded from games for long stretches during his first year in Philadelphia. Mills has a knack for putting pressure on a defense. 

By all accounts, Mills is a beloved teammate, too.

“Patty is without doubt the spiritual leader of our team,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters during the NBA’s restart. “He embodies empathy, awareness, the ability to be actionable after he speaks about things. He’s a very special human being.”

So, what are the potential downsides? A defensive drop-off is the obvious first answer to that question, along with corresponding concerns about how large of a role Mills could assume while still having a positive impact. He’s never played more than 25.7 minutes per game in the NBA and has generally served as a spark off the bench. (To be fair to Mills, he’s played plenty of minutes for the Australian Boomers and scored plenty of points — 22.8 per game in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.) The Sixers’ decisions in free agency and in Wednesday’s draft should clarify things.

With a player like Mills who’s never played a massive volume of NBA minutes, some volatility is also inevitable. He’ll give excellent effort and he hasn’t been below league average from three-point range in a season since 2014-15, but fluctuations are to be expected. It’s no guarantee that he’ll immediately gel with Simmons and Joel Embiid in the pick-and-roll, or that he won’t experience an ill-timed shooting slump. 

As a reminder, free agent negotiations are officially allowed to begin next Friday night, two days after the draft. No date has been set yet for the beginning of the transaction window, though ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that discussions were progressing toward a date two to three days prior to the draft — early next week.

Mills is certainly an intriguing possible trade target as we prepare for the offseason action to further accelerate.