Meet Justin Patton, Your (Other) Newest Timberwolf


Last night, the Wolves made perhaps the biggest trade the team has ever made, especially on draft night. Losing Zach LaVine is a tough pill to swallow, and Kris Dunn still has plenty of potential to be something in this league, but adding a player like Jimmy Butler made last night’s blockbuster a no-brainer.

What made the trade even more appealing was the inclusion of the 16th pick. While the Wolves gave up a top 10 pick in the Jimmy Butler deal, moving 9 spots down and bringing in a superstar was worth the price.

What they did with that pick, however, had some people surprised.

With Karl-Anthony Towns on a fast rise to stardom, Gorgui Dieng proving himself as a reliable option, and Cole Aldrich still under contract, it seemed unlikely that a trade was in the works. But Tom Thibodeau had an eye on freshman 7 foot Creighton center Justin Patton.

Every season, Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz makes killer videos of every top-end draft prospect. Let’s start our look into Patton with a look at what Schmitz (and the rest of the DX team) saw in him. They’re both 7 minutes, and very much worth your time.

Also, he’s a Wolves fan. That’s not noted in the video, but it’s a fun fact.

The short story (but please, please watch these excellent videos): Patton has good size and agility, has a good variety of ways to score (decent footwork inside, and shot 8-15 from three point land in 35 games), and has a great motor and interest in winning. But ultimately, he’s a project. He isn’t good on the glass, has little polish offensively, and isn’t ready to be an impact defender (despite some good shot blocking ability).

Still, when Thibs had the chance to draft the project at 16, he took it.

“His size, his skillset, his ability to run the floor, his ability to finish, putting pressure on the rim,” Tom Thibodeau said, describing his new big man. “Greg McDermott – he’s the coach out there – he runs a lot of pro sets, so he (Patton) knows how to execute.”

But those videos, excellent as they are, don’t tell the whole story.

“I suppose the first thing I’d start with his how much he’s improved over the last few years,” Jacob Padilla, an Omaha-based writer for HailVarsity.com, who covers Nebraska sports. He’s made huge leaps from one year to the next since the end of his junior year of high school, and I don’t expect that trend to stop now. That bodes well for him living up to his potential.”

It’s hard to quantifiably gauge his improvement on paper, as he only played one season. And the improvement Padilla is referring to goes back to high school, when he started covering Patton. Earlier than that, Patton was a 6-foot-something freshman in high school. To think that he’s now a 7 foot NBA center is astounding in itself.

The freshman redshirted his first year as a student at Creighton, though, giving him two years to get ready in a pro system. Through his first full year, though, there is some improvement.

Month # of Games Played Points Per Game Rebounds Per Game Blocks Per Game Field Goal Percentage
November 7 13.0 6.4 0.8 .800
December 7 13.1 6.3 2.1 .695
January 9 15.4 6.6 1.7 .678
February 7 10.2 6.0 1.3 .627
March 5 (mostly Big East/NCAA Tournament) 11.8 5.6 0.8 .587

While his numbers dropped off towards the end of the season, mostly during tournament time, there was gradual improvement elsewhere. His shooting percentage went down as his responsibility and shot attempts went up, but he always shot a high percentage. His ability to block shots improved, as did (not pictured above) his foul rate (with the exception of his rough March).

Still, the numbers don’t necessarily go along with what was seen in the games, especially defensively.

“Defense is where I’m worried about Justin’s fit with Thibs. We all saw how Doug McDermott did under Thibodeau,” Padilla said. “It’s not that Justin is incapable of being a good defender. He’s got some tools there. But he is way behind from a technique and IQ perspective.”

While Patton’s foul rate got better, the ability to consistently stay on the floor is what killed his numbers, especially late in the season and in tournament time. He fouled out of his last two college games, and only stayed out of foul trouble once in the five games he played in that month.

A big problem for him, different than the typical issues several wannabe shot blockers experience, is reaching. On the elbow or the perimeter, he tends to get over-antsy and will go for the reach. He’s not good at it, and it’s resulted in several foul-outs (including Creighton’s one NCAA tourney game last year).

Of course, there’s plenty to like about the almost-lottery pick. For a 7-footer, he runs like a gazelle. His motor and desire on defense, while not close to polished technically, gives him a good chance to be a good defender one day. While raw in both respects, he’s developing a post and a perimeter game simultaneously. He has a fire on the floor (for better and for worse) that should get the fans going when things are going well.

The trade itself is seen by a no-brainer by most people. Justin Patton is a project. Some have called him a “home run swing”. His best case could be beyond what we’re thinking right now, and there’s a chance he’ll eventually dazzle people. There’s also a chance he will not. While not necessarily a no-brainer pick at 16, he will be on a mission to prove he was absolutely worth it.

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