When a team is 14-6, in the midst of a six-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 23 points, praising just one individual seems reductive. Beating teams by these margins, with these offensive numbers, is not a single player’s accomplishment. The entire Raptors roster has been incredible during this stretch, but one player can fly under the radar for some fans: Patrick Patterson.
Patterson doesn’t jump off the page. Hell, he barely jumps off the floor. But the undersized four-man with a slightly above-average wingspan has been key to the success of the Toronto Raptors. Patterson’s versatility and consistency have given Toronto the exact kind of player they need given the current roster construction.
Defensively, Patterson is a treat to watch for all the little things he can do. He has great footwork and intelligence; a great combo for a power forward to have in the small-ball age.
Thabo Sefolosha beats Patterson middle here, but it almost looks like Patterson is baiting him to drive. Sefolosha leaves his feet and is forced to make a tough pass to Dwight Howard. Bebe Nogueira is a little out of position after trying to front so Howard gets a bucket, but Patterson’s closing speed jumps out.
Dwane Casey isn’t afraid to use Patterson to hedge or blitz the pick and roll either. I feel like this defence has fallen out of favour at the NBA level because teams figure if you have a guy who can blitz, why not just switch instead? There’s an argument to be had there since it switching keeps the rest of your defence in tact, but blitzing forces teams to make decisions.
Patterson hedges here, and Kent Bazemore knew it was coming because the Raptors had been doing it all game. He makes the right decision by flipping it to Mike Muscala, but Patterson recovers to force a turnover.
Having this as an option is a luxury. Toronto will hedge with other players too — the Luis Scola hedge and bump of the ball handler was a treasure — but few can recover like Patterson does.
While the Raptors can use Patterson to switch onto guards in pick and roll situations, there’s another wrinkle to his switchability. Teams are using more off-ball screens and misdirection to unravel defences, but when you have a big just switch on to the player who is supposed to get the ball, it can snuff out the action. The switch doesn’t even have to be permanent; I’ve seen situations where Patterson will switch quickly and give a teammate time to recover from the gauntlet of screens they just fought through. These plays are subtle, but they are a reason why Toronto has improved defensively over the past stretch.
Offensively, Patterson does the little things as well. Like most fans, I could do without the Patterson drives and would prefer he shoot, but overall the Kentucky product does a great job making decisions with the ball. He decides to move it or shoot it quickly; at times, his decisiveness is reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs “shoot or pass in 0.5 seconds” offence. It helps that 2Pat has found his range recently, but even when he wasn’t making shots, teams were still respecting his track record. That spacing makes a world of difference for the drive-heavy trio of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph.
And watch for Patterson to direct traffic on offence too. He’s constantly pointing where players should go or where to pass the ball next. As observers, it is hard to tell how much of an impact this truly has, but as the Raptors integrate younger players like Norm Powell, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Bebe, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a vocal veteran on the floor.
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted in a podcast last April, Patterson should be considered a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He won’t be, because the award is largely for the best scorer, but there are maybe a handful of bench players more important to their team’s success than Patterson. As long as the wins keep piling up, I’m sure no one will be complaining.