Justin Patton, the No. 16 overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, finally has some pro experience under his belt.
He’s only played 68 minutes, and those minutes have taken place in the NBA G League, but even those minutes have been valuable. It’s shown some definite reasons for his near-lottery selection, but also some faults that led to his ultimate fall from the top 14.
Sent down after a multi-month absence after a broken foot in the summer, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden decided to get Patton some consistent early-career minutes in the G League.
When will he be back with the big club? It’s unclear.
“I don’t want to put a lid on it,’’ Thibodeau said last week. “We’ll see how he develops, that’s the big thing. I think he’s gotten a lot better from when he first came in. Look back at his experience, he got better as he went along, from high school to Creighton, and then coming here. He keeps getting better and better.’’
While development in the G League is massive, it’s irresponsible to take those numbers and then try to guess how they may translate to the NBA.
Anthony Brown, the Wolves’ lone two-way contract signee, is averaging over 20 points per game, is shooting over 40 percent from 3-point land, and looks incredibly confident and poised with the Iowa Wolves, but can’t find real minutes on a Timberwolves team in need of another stable wing.
The difference is that great.
So while it’s hard to take the numbers, it is still valuable to take a look at trends, patterns, and habits.
For a breakdown of just Patton’s first game, click here.
Shooting and Scoring
In college, one of Patton’s most promising qualities was his ability to hit at a high percentage. He shot over 67 percent from the field at Creighton, and has shot 53 percent so far in the G League.
He’s done so mainly in the paint, where he’s displayed surprisingly advanced footwork.
He’s also – in a lesser quantity – shown a desire to work on his fadeaway jumper, and has some decent touch on it. The “KG Fadeaway,” one might call it. He hasn’t hit it at a consistent clip, but it does look pretty when it goes in.
Part of the reason Patton was taken near the lottery was the idea he could stretch the floor. He shot 53.3 percent from 3-point land on a very small sample size in college, but has yet to attempt a deep ball with the Wolves.
He has, however, taken a slew of mid-range jumpers. Some of have looked good, and others have air-balled, but the one thing that stands out is the hitch, or kick, in his form.
Oh, he can dunk like a guard, too.
Defense and Rebounding
One thing became clear after one game: the dude knows how to use his long arms to block shots.
He’s also been surprisingly nimble and alert when switched onto perimeter defenders, or having to close out a stretch big man.
He’s even ICE’d a pick and roll or two.
But when Patton isn’t directly involved in the play, he’s been caught sleeping. Teams are still scoring in the paint with Patton on the floor, despite the blocks. This is a big reason why.
He’s also struggled using his body to demand a rebound. If he’s going up against a guard, he simply uses his seven-foot wingspan to grab the board. Against other bigs, he tends to get beat up, and rarely comes up with the board. His hands aren’t great on the glass, either. It’s common that he’ll bop the ball back in the air, but never come back down with it.
Basketball IQ and Intangibles
The offensive end is where he might have shown the biggest mental lapse so far. Granted it’s on a play where he’s bringing up the ball – something he will never be asked to do in his career – his youth still showed on this play.
This would drive Thibodeau nuts.
And while he’s shown a strong ability to hit the cutter, he’s just as likely to experience tunnel vision and force a bad shot. This happens a lot in the post. When he gets the ball down low, odds aren’t great that it will come back out.
One Unicorn Play
Again, it’s hard to figure exactly how any of this will translate against NBA competition. Post plays will be more difficult when he’s going up against players like Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard. Shots will be harder to block when the driver is Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard.
Patton has shown some rough patches, but that’s to be expected. The promising thing is all the good stuff he’s done as well.
So, with that, we’ll end with his unicorn play. Yes, he has one already in four games. That’s a good sign, right?
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