It didn’t take long for President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri to explain what the Raptors didn’t do on trade deadline day. He did nothing, but maybe that’s because Ujiri looked at his roster and agreed with Head Coach Dwane Casey’s assessment that Patrick Patterson can fill the big man hole that many people were suggesting needed to be looked after.
“(Patterson’s) energy is contagious,” Casey said before the break. “Just the way he plays. The passion, how hard he plays, it’s contagious and he’s playing so many consecutive minutes. It’s hard to take him out though because he kind of sets the tone. It’s nothing against Amir (Johnson) and JV (Jonas Valanciunas), but he plays at a different level that is an NBA skill.”
Patterson’s minutes continue to creep up as Casey has seen the effect his energy and effort can have on the game. He has even played Patterson at center in small lineups recently, although that is really taking the forward well out of his comfort zone.
An undersized center converted to forward in his last year of college, Patterson has evolved into an excellent three-point shooter and it’s the skill he takes the most pride in, but it’s his defense that has made him stand out. Patterson is a big man that can cover the perimeter and has the speed, quickness and awareness to get back in time to influence plays made in the paint.
“At the end of the day, shooting is what I want to be known for,” Patterson said. “There is still so much more I need to improve on, but as far as being a shooter, that is what I want to be known for, that is what I want to continue to get better at.
“At times of course I am going to go up against someone who is bigger and stronger, it is all about using my agility, my quickness to outmaneuver him and limit his touches.
“(I was) working on it this summer, working on it with the coaching staff here, being in the weight room, working on my lateral quickness, my strength and my reaction time. The more I do it, the more I get comfortable with it.”
With Patterson’s improving game and Casey’s increasing confidence in his 25-year-old forward (yes Patterson looks older than 25), Ujiri had one more reason to stand-Pat at the trade deadline and give this group of relatively young players more time to develop.
“We feel confident in this team,” Ujiri said post trade deadline. “We’ve made a commitment to give this group a chance.”
“These are the guys we believe in,” Casey said. “We’re going to grow with our guys. It’s a process. It’s going to take a little longer to get to where we want to go but we believe in our young players, we believe in our core.”
In reality, it isn’t that easy to improve on a roster that is tied for fourth overall in the NBA at the All-Star break. Most of the big deals that went down were designed to help teams in the bottom half of the playoff picture or teams hoping to get into the playoff picture sometime in the future. The Raptors are pretty happy to be a second place team in the East.
“For now we’re second in the East,” Ujiri said. “I know it could go up and down, but I think we have good placement for now. In the summer we’ll evaluate again.”
Every team looks for that high energy big man who actually has some skills to go along with all that effort and Ujiri got lucky (or genius) when he scooped up Patterson from the Kings last season. The more Patterson has played for Coach Casey, the harder it’s been for Casey to take him off the floor and that’s exactly the type of player a team on the rise wants to have in their rotation. Acquiring another big man at the trade deadline would have just put someone in Patterson’s way.
The NBA game has been changing as the new analytics suggest offenses should be built around the three-point shot, the paint and the charity stripe and since Patrick Patterson came to the Raptors, his game has continued to evolve in that direction.
“(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.”