It seems odd at first glance that Patrick Patterson would be a symbol of the old Raptors culture. The “old culture” is largely remembered for encouraging selfishness, poor decision making, and poor shot selection. Patterson does not in any way embody these qualities. In fact, he essentially embodies the antithesis. Patterson shares the ball, almost exclusively takes three-point shots or shots at the basket and his decision making, as Dwane Casey remarked prior to the Raptors’ most recent game, is his best skill.
Funny Casey quote on 2-Pat's bball IQ: "He's one of the smartest players in the league at knowing what to do, how to do it. Now whether he gets it done all the time, I don't know about that."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 18, 2018
So maybe Patterson is just a victim of guilt by association. He played for the Raptors while the “old culture” was at its most insidious and left just prior to the “culture change” the Raptors underwent this off-season. Maybe he had nothing to do with making the old culture what it was and became a figurehead for the culture by unlucky chance.
On second glance, however, Patterson may be the perfect figurehead for the old culture. Perhaps the most essential aspect of the new culture that the Raptors have fostered is the freedom it gives their ancillary players. Pascal Siakam sometimes operates as a point forward, Jonas Valanciunas can make decisions at the elbows, Fred VanVleet is given chances to run the Raptors’ offense in crunch time. Empowering the role players lifts pressure off the shoulders of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but perhaps more importantly it grants a level of confidence to the role players that allows them to be better at both improvising under pressure and at filling their roles.
The old culture had a strong “stay in your lane” attitude about it. If you were a “3 and D” player you were a 3-and-D player and nothing more. You aren’t allowed to take the ball up the court, you’ll never get to run a pick and roll, your job is to just stand on the three-point line and jack up shots. This pigeon-holing kept players doing things that they were good at, but it also had a clear effect on their confidence and their sense of involvement in the team. Perimeter players consistently looked uncomfortable attacking closeouts, hesitating and kicking the ball back out, leading to DeRozan or Lowry jacking up a rushed, contested shot.
Some players fought the idea that they need to stay in their lane, in the locker room if not on the court. DeMarre Carroll was very vocal about it following his trade (to the ire of many Raptors fans), and Jonas Valanciunas made comments this year, while the culture change was still taking hold, that more than implied some dissatisfaction with his role.
Patrick Patterson never fought the idea that he needed to stay in his lane. He did the exact opposite, he embraced the marginalization that was being forced on him. In Patterson’s first year with the Raptors he took only 30 percent of his shots from 3-point range. His usage rate of 17.9 percent was the highest mark of his career. His assist rate was the highest mark of his career. He wasn’t just a 3-and-D guy, he was an offensive play-maker who was heavily involved in the Raptors offense. By the next year Patterson was taking over half his shots from three-point range and his usage had tanked. By 2016-17 Patterson was taking two-thirds of his shots from three-point range and his usage and assist rates had dropped to career lows. Perhaps injuries played a part, but it felt more like Patterson was simply willing to conform to the culture which the Raptors worked so hard to root out this off-season.
So when C.J. Miles stepped out of his lane and drove to the basket in Sunday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder it simply had to be Patterson who met him there. Miles had to show Patterson what he had been missing out on, what the culture change has allowed everyone on this year’s fun and good Raptors to do.