Patrick Patterson has been a key reserve for the Toronto Raptors since his arrival. He’s the lone remaining piece of the Rudy Gay-to-Sacramento trade, a move that turned the fortunes of this Raptors franchise and paved the way for all the fun we’ve had over the past two and a half seasons. He’s a hard-working, thoughtful player, beloved by the fans and by all accounts, adored by his teammates and the Raptors coaching staff. A true professional.
However, things are set to change for the man they call 2Pat. With unrestricted free agency looming and Toronto adding a stable of big men through the draft and free agency, the question has to be asked: is Patterson in Toronto’s long term plans? And if not, how does that affect his role this season?
To determine this, we must examine 2Pat the player coldly and irrationally— 2Pat the man is beloved, as we’ve mentioned. As a reserve stretch four, Patterson’s job description is pretty concise, and I think it comes down to three major responsibilities.
Patterson has suited up in 150 of 153 possible contests over the past two seasons, while playing roughly 26 minutes per game. It’s nice to be able to count on your reserves, particularly as much as Toronto did last season, when their Lowry + bench lineup was their greatest weapon for long stretches.
With that said, Patterson noticeably flagged when he was moved to the starting line-up in the playoffs. He still played with maximum effort, but the other parts of his game were affected. Patterson is a model of physical conditioning, but as a big man who switches out to guard the perimeter and often has to bang with bigger and more athletic bodies down low, it’s a big ask to have him step into a 30+ minute per game role. He’s much more effective in the 24-28 minute range, which is fine, as long as that’s taken into account when his next contract is being negotiated.
One of the biggest strengths that Patterson possesses is his ability — as a big man — to knock down the outside shot. While his overall numbers during his tenure as a Raptor seem relatively average (though remarkably consistent: 37.1% shooting, making 105/283 in 2014-15, 36.1% shooting, making 106/293 in 2015-16), they don’t really tell the whole story. When Patterson is on from deep, he’s a deadly threat. It just so happens that he’s been extremely streaky.
Take last season for example. Patterson’s three point shooting from January to March was ruthless. By month, he dropped 44.1%, 42.3% and 42.1% of his attempts, which is fantastic efficiency. However, he was absolutely terrible before that stretch, making only 33.3% in November and a terrible 25.0% in December. He was bad afterwards too, shooting only 27.3% in April.
While he had a good first round series from deep against the Pacers (41.2%) he completely fell off the table against Miami (14.3%!!!) and Cleveland (32.0%). As we mentioned before, his increased workload (31.8 mpg vs Miami, 28.8 vs Cleveland) might have had something to do with that, but the problem is that Toronto’s offense often relied on Patterson to be a release valve — to bail them out on broken plays and to maximize possessions, particularly in transition. For the portion of the season when he was a dead-eye from the perimeter, their offense looked pretty effective. When he was missing open looks, the offense stalled out. That’s a gross oversimplification, as other elements stalled the offense as well, but Patterson’s struggles were a noticeable factor at key points during the season, and particularly in the playoffs.
Patterson will always give you maximum effort on defense. To watch him play on that side of the ball is to watch a guy who truly gives it his all on every possession, a cerebral guy who knows where he’s supposed to be and gets there the majority of the time. It’s telling that a player who spent the majority of the time at the four led the Raptors in contested 3 pointers last season, at 3.1 per game, and contested more shots per game (8.1) than anyone on the team not named Valanciunas or Biyombo. He doesn’t protect the rim like a traditional shot blocker, but he’s constantly moving and making shooters uncomfortable. You just can’t knock the hustle.
So What Now?
If you eliminate Bebe and his 8 mpg over 29 games from the mix, Patterson was Toronto’s top player in Offensive Net Rating. The team scored 109.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He also finished fourth best in Defensive Net Rating, as the team allowed only 100.5 points per 100 when he was out there. That gave him a cumulative net rating of +9.3, by far the best on the team among regulars, and only bested by Jason Thompson in the aggregate. For comparison’s sake, among regulars, Cory Joseph finished second at +6.9, leaving a veritable canyon between Patterson and the competition.
2Pat is an extremely valuable commodity, though one with clear limitations. This season, Toronto needs to use him just as they have been, and hope that a healthy DeMarre Carroll, a full season of Norm Powell and a maturing Terrence Ross will take the pressure off his offensive game and keep him fresher, so he can rain down fire with more consistency. He will remain a key cog in the bench unit, and you should expect him to play more minutes than Luis Scola replacement Jared Sullinger. Future plans are just that— for the future.
As far as free agency goes, the development of Bebe Nogueira and Pascal Siakam will play a large role in whether or not Toronto feels confident handing out a fat contract to what might be their best bench player. With a new Kyle Lowry deal also looming, retaining Patterson might be a tough task, if Toronto hopes to avoid the luxury tax. Other teams will surely see everything we’ve examined above, and if some team offers him in the 40-50 million range, this could be his last season in Toronto, which would be a real shame.
How many Pat’s is enough? Two. Exactly two. Let’s hope the Raptors can figure out how to keep it that way.