Patrick Patterson’s game is a useful metaphor for the current state of the Toronto Raptors. He is certainly skilled, though he cannot compare with the upper echelon. His game is inconsistent, bordering on schizophrenic. He is an intuitive player, intelligent, and able to succeed at a level greater than his skill should dictate. Finally, he has thus far proved unable to rise to the occasion against the league’s elite, such as the Cavaliers.
As has been trumpeted far and wide by basketball journalists from The Ringer to ESPN to Raptors Republic, the Raptors face a significant crossroad this upcoming offseason. They can ignite their current core and scatter the ashes, ending this loveable and frustrating run of Raptors basketball led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Or they can run it back. The options regarding Patterson’s future with the Raptors cleanly follow the narratives of status quo or detonation; if Patterson is re-signed, the Raps will run it back. If he hits the bricks, so do the Raptors.
Despite his flaws as a player, Patterson has been an important part of the Raptors’ success over the last few years. This season, he had the highest net rating of any Raptors’ rotation player, with an astounding +10.9. That was good for 23rd in the NBA, just ahead of Blake Griffin. Last year, Patterson’s net rating was +9.3, and the year before +5.3. While his playoff net ratings have consistently plummeted into the negatives, Patterson is clearly a major part of the Raptors’ regular season success. This is a result of Patterson’s offensive and defensive abilities.
On offense, Patterson is one of the team’s primary floor-spacers. Almost two-thirds (65.9%) of his field goal attempts came from 3-point range, good for most on the team. A massive four-fifths (79.9%) of his field goals were assisted (also 1st on the team), making him a perfect complement to isolation-heavy scorers, such as DeRozan. While he only scored 6.8 points a game, he shot a healthy 37.1% from 3. Many of the most effective Raptors’ offensive possessions ended in simple Patterson corner 3s, like this:
Patterson also has been improving at his ability to pump fake and create plays with his dribble. He is quickly improving at dishing and making plays for others:
He can also reach into the sky and finish, shooting 57.1% from the field on 1.1 drives per game during the season:
While Patterson’s offense is critical, he truly excels on defense. His cerebral defensive chops allow him to interrupt opponents’ best-laid plans while not leaping himself out of position. He meshes well with Lowry, another free-jazz-improvisational defender. Observe Patterson’s defensive impact, both at the rim and in general:
|When defended by Patterson|
|Opponent FG% at rim||45.8|
Opponents shot a full 6.9% worse when defended by Patterson – good for 1st in the league among players who played in more than 60 games! This is worth re-iterating: Patterson lowered his opponents’ ability to make shots more effectively than Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, or Rudy Gobert. Patterson doesn’t record many blocks or steals, so while the box score may not feel him, his opponents certainly do.
Patterson’s ability on defense is difficult to define. His most important attribute is intelligence; he knows angles, and he is able to guard smaller or faster players by pre-empting their moves, moving his feet to cut off available driving angles, and not allowing them to turn the corner. Of course, having quick feet and active hands allows Patterson to use his smarts. Furthermore, Patterson has size, strength, and length. He can feasibly guard centers for short stretches and defend the rim. His ability to switch onto any player on the floor, from point guard to center, and recover to shooters, offers the Raptors a huge advantage on defense.
To beat the Chicago Bulls this year, the Raptors needed every bit of Patterson’s defensive ability. On consecutive possessions in the 4th quarter, Patterson moved his feet to corral a Jimmy Butler drive then reached up to block a Rajon Rondo layup:
Few players can do that. Patterson is smart and skilled, and his skills unlock the Raptors’ full potential on defense, in transition, and in the half-court. This neither explains nor excuses his Viagra-requiring failure to perform this past post-season. However, the Raptors are historically at their best with Patterson on the floor.
While it is difficult to overlook Patterson’s historical postseason vanishing acts, he has only mimicked the performance of the Raptors’ themselves. If the Raps are playing poorly, Patterson is not going to pull them out of the sewer, like a Lowry or a DeRozan can. However, for the current iteration of the Raptors to succeed, Patterson’s skills are irreplaceable. If maintaining success and re-visiting the postseason in 2017-18 is the correct route for the Raps, then bringing back Patterson is an important first step for the Raptors to continue their winning ways.