In an NBA without enough traditional centers to go around, small ball has become the norm and the Toronto Raptors Patrick Patterson still credits Kentucky Wildcats Head Coach John Calipari for transforming him from an undersized college center into a forward that can score and defend on the perimeter.
“My first two years at Kentucky I was a five man 6’8. I was a taller version of Chuck (Hayes),” Patterson said. “Calipari comes in and completely opens up my eyes and changes my world. I am what I am because of him. Had I not stayed my junior year, had I left or if (Calipari) had not came, who knows where I would be, definitely not shooting threes on the perimeter.”
Patterson opened a lot of eyes in Toronto last season after he arrived as part of the Rudy Gay trade in early December. The physically imposing forward shot better than 40 percent from three-point range and was often seen chasing opponents around the three-point line at the other end with solid results. His ability to defend the perimeter wasn’t lost on Head Coach Dwane Casey and when opponents stop trying to go inside, Patterson is going to get the call over Jonas Valanciunas for defensive purposes on many nights.
“I thought we needed more speed and quickness, (the Hawks) were coming at us pretty fast in transition,” Casey said after the home opener. “They weren’t trying to post up. I like Amir Johnson and Patterson for their athleticism and speed and quickness on the floor at the end. As long as the other team is playing fast, you may see that a lot.”
It’s not really a surprise that Patterson doesn’t see himself as a great defender, he’s not a big steals and blocks guy, but Patterson is a mobile big man and in the ever quickening NBA, mobility has become a valued asset.
“Defensive presence to me is someone who gets crazy steals, active with their hands, a shot blocker, me I am just a great team defender,” Patterson said. “(I) communicate with my teammates, help side, just doing whatever I can to help my teammates get stops.
“It started in college in my junior year with Coach Calipari and then after that with Rick Adelman in Houston and Coach Kevin McHale and just training throughout the summer in sand and working on my foot speed and quickness. Working on my lateral quickness to stay in front of guys on the perimeter after I close out to them, just credit to my summer workout and coaches that I have had throughout my career.
“It helps me. It helps my teammates out and it helps us win.”
The Raptors are still a fairly young team and Coach Casey has good reason to be cautious in trying to impose a style of play on a game, especially against the better teams in the league. Matching up using the Raptors depth is likely to remain a preferred option on most nights for a while yet and when opponents go small, Patterson’s ability to chase guys around the perimeter and get back to cover fast breaks will continue to put him on the court at the end of games.
“(Confidence is from) coaches, coaching staff, teammates just telling me to shoot the ball,” Patterson said. “Whether I’m missing three or four or I’m hot, just shoot the ball, take advantage of my opportunities out there and just having a good relationship with my head coach.”
How these two players earn their living couldn’t be more different. However, DeRozan’s real advantage over Thompson comes not from scoring, but rather the “swiss-army-knife” package of skills that he has been developing.