The 22-year-old Trail Blazer from Australia hoists up three-pointers without hesitation, hurtles his body into the lane and plays hyperactive, nose-to-nose defense against some of the NBA’s best players (a few of whom have been known to cut past Mills to the basket, or to post up the bearded dynamo generously listed as 6 feet tall). The second-year point guard spent much of this season as the Blazers’ mid game energy boost, though rotation changes stemming from the midseason acquisition of Gerald Wallace have all but eliminated the 10 to 20 minutes per game shifts Mills saw back in January.
Despite living on the bench these days, Portland’s favorite Aussie import remains one of the Blazers’ most indispensable chemistry guys, a tireless morale booster and towel waver from the sidelines who kick-started the “three-goggles” hand-sign trend with teammate Rudy Fernandez.
When he’s got downtime, Mills just keeps on rolling: He conducts interviews for the Blazers’ in-house streaming Internet channel, and he drives around the city and state selling the T-shirts he helped design as a fundraiser for Australian flood relief. Though he’s only played five minutes in the past three games, Mills was upbeat and personable on Saturday afternoon via phone from Oklahoma City.
WW: So, what exactly do you do with a night off in Oklahoma City, the entertainment capital of...Oklahoma?
Patty Mills: Oh, mate, nothing [laughs]. The last few times we’ve been through we’ve just hung out at the hotel, had dinner and caught up on some rest.
Doesn’t your mood hinge at all on the minutes you’re getting?
No. We’ve had an unbelievable season, if you consider all the injuries and trades and all the stuff that has happened. So whether I contribute on the court or not, we’re winning games. So I’ve been happy…for being where I am and being part of this great team and for just having fun with my teammates. I understand the role I’m in and what I have to do if I’m given opportunities. But if not, there are other ways I can contribute off the court.
It seems like one of your roles has been gelling this team—have you felt close with this team since you first got here?
No, I wouldn’t say I’ve always been tight, and I wouldn’t say it’s a role of mine, either, because I’ve never been asked to do it. It just happened naturally. That’s just my character. The way I act around people is to have fun, and I’m laid back and I go with the flow. It’s such an underrated aspect of the team game here in the NBA—that camaraderie between guys off the court.
You’ve been selling and signing T-shirts for Australian flood relief on your own time. What keeps you pushing that cause two months afterward?
Being in America and not being where the disaster happened was really hard. I know if I was there, I’d be the first one to put out my hands to help clean up and do all the dirty work or whatever it may be, so I was just feeling helpless here. I think that determined attitude about not being in Australia and the impact of having family and friends directly affected in both the disasters, that’s what keeps me wanting to push this even more.
Has it been hard to keep people’s focus on Australia with the disaster more recently in Japan?
Well, look, mate, it’s not a race. It’s not wanting to get more attention than another thing. They’re both major disasters. It’s not like Japan’s disasters are taking thunder from my shirts—it’s not like that at all. Both disasters are up there together, and I hope everyone helps out to do all they can for both of them.
Have you seen any money off the three-goggles campaign?
No, we haven’t got anything off that. We didn’t know how big it was going to be at the time. It was just a little personal joke, but it’s kind of taken off.
It seems like the marketing department owes you a hat tip, at least.
No question, mate. They’ve run with it.
I’d imagine you usually haze the new guys, but can you really mess with a dude as big as Gerald Wallace?
I mess with him all the time, mate. He’s big and mean on the court, but he’s really soft off the court [laughs]. I think he’s feeling right at home, and you can see it by the way he’s playing.
How far can this team go?
We play solid basketball and we’ve proven it throughout the season. The main thing with us is being consistent with it. We need to be as close to perfect as we can be to beat top teams. But we’ve shown that we can hang with the big guys like San Antonio, Lakers, all those people. It’s about tightening the screws and getting a little more crisp. We can do something special with this group.