The Toronto Raptors Patrick Patterson is a player whose game has been evolving since his days under Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari. An undersized center that Calipari encouraged to start developing a jump shot who eventually became a “3-and-D” power forward in the NBA, Patterson has been taking the next step in his evolution with the Raptors this season. Is a combo forward or power small forward role in his future?
“My whole life I was a center,” Patterson told Pro Bball Report. “All the way up until my Junior year when Coach Calipari came to Kentucky and had me work out with the wings and the guards. Then getting to the NBA and having Coach Adelman encourage me to shoot mid-range jump shots while at the same time still looking at the post and then Coach Kevin McHale came in and right off the bat he told me he wanted me to shoot threes and that’s what I’ve been doing for the longest time. Now I am just starting to read the defense and as I knock down more shots, the defense wants to run me off my opportunities to shoot the three, so I have been working on that in-between game.”
Although it feels like Patterson has been turning down more three-point attempts than in past years, in fact he’s actually been firing more long range bombs than ever before. It’s just he’s been obviously looking for opportunities to drive on any type of close out and the results have been mixed. This is something new for the center turned power forward turned combo forward? and he’s still figuring it out, but with the way the game is evolving, if he can take this next step, it would represent a big improvement in what he can bring to a team.
It seems like Patterson may have finally started to figure some things out. The change in style that was likely a major contributing factor in him shooting 35.6 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from three-point range for the first two months of the season has been adapted to. Since the new year Patterson has been making better decisions about when to drive and when to shoot and his field goal percentages reflect it. In January it’s 51.8 percent from the field and 51.4 percent from three and the 8 game sample size is starting to get big enough to think maybe this is a trend.
In the second quarter of the recent game against the Nets, Patterson drove out of the corner like a wing and hit a 4′ floater. Then on two occasions in the fourth quarter he drove from the side and made a 14′ bank shot and later a 7′ bank shot to avoid the shot blocking presence of Brook Lopez in the paint who already had blocked two shots in the game. If he hadn’t of been working on these types of situations all season (with suspect results), they could have gone unnoticed, but they are a good sign. Patterson made the right decision about when to drive and he made the right decision reading the defense.
“I saw Brook Lopez, Cory (Joseph) made a great pass to me, Thad Young was closing out high so I drove baseline. I wanted to keep going, but I saw Lopez there, so a two foot floater off the glass,” Patterson described the play.
Patterson wasn’t any where near two feet away when he threw up the floater off the glass to avoid Lopez, but he made the right call.
The NBA is changing and versatility is becoming a highly sought after skill. Big men that can stretch the floor and play like a wing. Big wings that can guard traditional power forwards and be a disruptive force on offense. Even big guards that can play on the wing and drive opposing coaches crazy. It’s a different game and Patterson sees where it’s heading.
“The NBA has evolved, players have evolved,” Patterson said. “The NBA has changed over the years and now it’s a small man’s game. Small ball that Golden State plays, being able to play Draymond Green at the five, Iguodala at the four, that’s what the game is now. To be able to have a five that can play four/five or a four that can play three/four/five or a wing that can play every position that’s definitely valuable in this league and that’s what teams tend to gravitate toward is the small ball and to play multiple positions.”
Unfortunately for the players, no one said being versatile was easy. Change means some players will be left behind and Patterson isn’t planning on being one of them.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Patterson said. “Especially on the defensive end you are guarding these guys who have done it for years, who are naturally at that position and you are still trying to get better at it. Being able to stay in front of a wing or stay in front of a guard at a normal pace consistently and at the same time stay on the perimeter and hit perimeter jump shots, make reads on the offensive end and gravitate back to the post and guard big guys in the post, it’s extremely difficult, but that’s what the league is now.
“The league is changing the game, evolving and taking advantage of all the opportunities.
“There is still so much more that I can work on, improve on and I look forward to getting better at. Definitely my ball handling, being able to handle the rock out on the perimeter, create opportunities and drive to the basket confidently, successfully. That’s an area of my game that’s going to get there eventually. It’s all about evolution, it’s all about evolving, it’s all about getting better, working on your craft, working on areas of your game to help you out, but most importantly better your team and your chances to win games.”
Just 26-years-old (he only seems older), Patterson is a big guy, 6’9 240 lbs and he moves well. Head coach Dwane Casey has been having him chase stretch-fours and big threes around the perimeter pretty much since the first day he arrived in Toronto. However, what he’s doing this year seems to be more of his own making. Patterson wants to continue his evolution and be able to do more, especially at the offensive end of the court. He should be able to do it too.
A power small forward? A combo forward? Or maybe just a power forward that can play the three/four/five as needed in this ever changing NBA? Becoming more versatile is journey Patterson has been on ever since Coach Calipari sent him off to work out with the guards and wings. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if he still has a lot more to bring to the game.