The Case for Patrick Patterson

Getty Images

The Thunder season is still in its infancy, but there has been an alarming lack of Patrick Patterson through the first three games. Expected to log heavy minutes at backup power forward and backup center, Patterson has seemingly been supplanted by Jerami Grant in the rotation thus far. While it’s true he missed the preseason and training camp recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, all signs point to him being healthy right now. This begs the question — where is he at?

His numbers through the first three games:

Knicks: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 0/2 FG, 0/2 3P, 7 minutes

Jazz: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 0/2 FG, 0/1 3P, 12 minutes

T-Wolves: 0 points, 0/2 FG, 0/2 3P, 6 minutes

All in, that’s 0 points on 0/6 shooting in 25 minutes of action. Keep in mind — prior to the Thunder landing Carmelo Anthony less than a month before the season started, Patterson was penciled in as the starting power forward on opening night. Even after the trade, people were extremely excited about the prospects of what he could provide from a spacing/small ball standpoint. Surely this odd start hasn’t undone what was expected, has it?

While it can’t be said for certain what Billy Donovan is thinking, Patterson should still be quickly worked into being a key part of the Thunder rotation. Let’s discuss why that is, and why it’s still likely in the immediate plans.


The Precedent

Billy Donovan is notorious for his tinkering, and there’s a precedent in place for what might be occurring with Patterson. As Fred Katz pointed out on yesterday’s Dream Team podcast, taking a look at the rotation in the immediate aftermath of landing Taj Gibson last season shows this is standard Billy D behavior.

Despite landing Gibson in the midst of an awful stretch of play for starting power forward Domantas Sabonis, Taj came off the bench seven times before being inserted into the starting lineup. The Thunder went 3-4 with Gibson as a reserve, but won eight of the next 10 with him in the starting lineup. It was no secret that Gibson was the better player, but Donovan eased him into his role as he got familiar with the system/his teammates.

Patterson has been with the team since early July, but could still be considered a newcomer from an on-court perspective. He missed training camp and preseason after his knee procedure, and the Thunder roster/his role changed dramatically when OKC traded for Carmelo Anthony. The knee injury has certainly contributed to the lack of playing time, but is unlikely to be the only factor. Donovan holding up his standard of easing guys into place seems just as likely.


Shots Will Fall

Patterson spent the 2016-17 season with the Toronto Raptors, and fell more deeply in love with the long ball than ever in his career. An astounding 66 percent of every shot he took came from three-point range, besting his previous high of 59 percent the season before. He shot 37 percent from deep on nearly four attempts per game, which is good enough to keep defenses honest and unpack the paint. That style of play is exactly what Sam Presti signed up for when acquiring Patterson as a free agent.

A quick glance at his 2016-17 shot chart:

As you can see, Patterson made his living beyond the three point line. While the Thunder roster is no longer a desolate place void of shooters, his ability to drift along the perimeter for open shots is something OKC can utilize frequently given the tempo at which the team would like to play. The sample size is limited through three games, but the looks have been there early on. Below are his two shot attempts against Minnesota on Sunday night.

Although it didn’t go down, watch Patterson run the 4-on-2 fast break with Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Jerami Grant. Jeff Teague naturally follows Westbrook, and Jimmy Butler slides over to stop the attacking George/trailing Grant. This leaves Patterson all to his lonesome from the right corner — a spot in which he shot 54 percent last season, according to StatMuse.

It didn’t fall, but it’s the exact shot envisioned for Patterson when he signed in Oklahoma City. Historically speaking, those should start to drop as he gets the opportunity to shoot more of them. The presence of Westbrook, George and Anthony will keep him open much more frequently than he’s accustomed to.

Another good example came with Westbrook creating a great shot for Patterson by simply being Russell Westbrook. As Russ takes the ball to his right, he commands the attention of not only his defender, but also Jerami Grant and Patterson’s defender. This allows Patterson to simply pop out to the right wing and take an uncontested shot from distance.

Again — the shot didn’t drop, but Patterson looked confident in sliding over and getting his look. The play developed exactly as it was supposed to, and he could have made one more pass to an even more wide open Grant should he have chosen to do so. Everything goes right but the end result.

This would all be much more concerning if Patterson looked lost or out of place, but it’s been a matter of limited opportunity and shots not falling. He got two great looks in just six minutes against Minnesota, so there should be no doubt that it will eventually get rolling with extended run. His ability to play off the stars will be invaluable if he finds his shot.


Patience

Although Patterson hasn’t had the immediate impact many imagined, it doesn’t seem like anything fans should be worried about. As discussed, Billy Donovan is no stranger to slowly incorporating newcomers, and the shots you want Patterson taking appear as though they’ll be there. When you factor in his ability on the defensive end, and the simple fact that he’s a better basketball player than Jerami Grant (he is), it all shakes out to spell good things for Patterson in the future.

As he gets fully up to speed following his injury, his confidence will grow — along with his minutes. If this is still an issue five games from now, it might be time to question the approach. Not there yet.