Before the season began, ESPN NBA Insider David Thorpe gave us five players he thought would explode on the national scene as improved, positive forces for their respective teams—young players who would see statistical spikes in production, an increase in playing time, and just a better overall understanding of how to be consistently successful in the NBA.
One of those players happened to be Houston forward Patrick Patterson, a well-coordinated cinder block of muscle, currently chugging through his second season. Before the season started, the decision to include Patterson was slightly out of left field. Thorpe reasoned his selection on the grounds that Patterson’s playing time would intensify due to the shortened season and its affect on Luis Scola’s aging legs.
Houston’s first round draft pick last year has enough promise to make him the team’s most intriguing player, and a serious X-factor moving forward. Should he manage to earn Kevin McHale’s trust to the tune of a serious increase in efficiency and minutes, the domino effect could be huge. Patterson’s emergence would allow Luis Scola and his not-so-team-friendly contract to be shopped at a quicker rate than ever before. The two are built with a similar structure, but Patterson has youth, strength, and athleticism on his side.
(Exchanging Scola for the ever clichéd combination of “young pieces and draft picks” would be nice, but I’d be happy if they could just fill an area of immediate need, like an athletic perimeter defender who can shoot a decent three-ball, for example.)
The former Kentucky Wildcat most definitely will not be in the running for sixth man of the year, as some predicted. He began the shortened season with a foot injury, which forced him to ease into his new coach’s rotation at a pace that was frustrating to some fans. In the first part of the season, his playing time was inconsistent, and his play was unspectacular (he wasn’t sexy enough to make the Rookie/Sophomore game), but there’s promise in the way he approaches the sport, and the no-nonsense style he imparts.
Patterson is both unique and valuable in the modern game. He’s just as capable at knocking down mid-range jumpers as he is maneuvering his broad shoulders in the post. According to basketball-reference.com, this season he’s shooting 50.8% on shots between 16-23 feet, which is a higher percentage than what he’s doing from 3-9 feet (on just four more attempts).
For an old school power forward, he’s so active on the offensive end, regularly setting screens off the ball and on the ball on the same possession, rolling to the hoop or releasing for a jumper. He’s constantly moving and shows a great understanding as to what his role is playing for a team that lacks a truly dominant offensive weapon. He shoots when he’s open and he passes when he isn’t.
In between setting all those screens, his feet move like a salsa instructor dancing across hot coals. But once he’s arrived at his destination Patterson goes stiff, transforming his body into a wide-legged statue. There’s no moving him, and getting around takes a little burst of energy that by the fourth quarter has weighed a bit on an opposing guard’s energy.
After the screen is set, Patterson’s knowledge of what space needs to be filled is nearly flawless. He adjusts to how defenses are playing his guard and almost always goes to the right spot. According to Synergy, he’s one of the 40 most efficient players in the league scoring 0.96 PPP as the roll man. This is what you might call a strength. What isn’t, however, is his work as an independent entity.
According to Synergy, Patterson has attempted two shots in isolation situations this season, and made them both. The first was a typical pick and pop that ended with Patterson being left so open, he looked around as if the referees had stopped play with a whistle, took one awkward dribble to the right, and knocked down an uncontested jumper from just above the free-throw line.
Once he gains position down low, Patterson isn’t scared of facing up or lofting a soft hook shot off the glass. Here’s where he can really end up being a solid offensive weapon for Houston, especially in the postseason, when games slow down and defenses hone in Lowry.
On defense his numbers aren’t great. From the post he gives up 1.09 PPP and when isolated it’s 1.08 PPP. But after looking at the actual plays from which these numbers are based, I found the 6’9″ forward regularly playing out of position, defending guys two, three inches taller than him with wider wingspans. In the post, he has good fundamental technique and he’s powerful, but at this point it’s a bit of a mismatch.
Patrick Patterson is an improving player, who may someday soon grow to become a credible force warranting focus from opposing coaches. Will he ever become an All-Star? Probably not, as his game is more suited to compliment than shine. But watching him get better as the season goes along is part of what makes this game such an exciting one to watch. It’s why we follow teams and observe them grow together, from one season to the next. Patterson may not have had the season more than a few intelligent evaluators thought he would, but there’s no doubting he’s on the right track.