On Tuesday afternoon at Loews Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis, the Timberwolves introduced their new big man, Justin Patton. After brief opening remarks from Alan Horton, Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden, and Patton himself, the media asked questions of Patton and Thibs.
Meet and greet pressers of this nature are sort of like the annual media day: light on substance and mostly about positive vibes and first impressions. Patton’s was no different. But even amid the cliches and surface-level answers, I took three basic things away from the introduction to Justin Patton.
1) Justin Patton comes off as a nice, regular guy.
Psychoanalysis is a huge part of sports fandom or (interesting) sports analysis. In recent Timberwolves years, we’ve had the uber-confident Zach LaVine, who memorably opened his first media day presser with a, “Sup wit y’all?” to the local press. The same year, we could barely get Andrew Wiggins to say two words. Some of those respective impressions carried into actual games where LaVine’s confidence in his own shot was never in question and Wiggins’ blank demeanor caused some to question his drive to be great. The following year, Karl-Anthony Towns was unrealistically good at saying the right thing to the press. Fast forward a couple years and that captured the best of KAT (he’s unrealistically good at basketball) and the worst (his need to be perceived as perfect in every way sometimes creates an annoying “teacher’s pet” vibe).
Patton just came off as a nice young guy. He was appropriately nervous, his voice sometimes shaking just a tiny bit. He was friendly with some humility mixed in, beginning his answer to a question about “NBA readiness,” with a, “Me being confident…” before explaining that he’d like to play right away, but understands that might not happen. He even cited his willingness to be red-shirted at Creighton as evidence that he understands his own development will take time. (Thibs’s biggest smile came when Patton started his answer that way.)
If Wiggins is quiet and KAT is eager to please, Patton is somewhere right in between. He made a good first impression.
2) Puts Pressure on the Rim
In describing Patton, Thibs called him an athletic big who can run the floor and put pressure on the rim. He used that general phrase — “put pressure on the rim” — at least one more time in his brief remarks on Patton, and he also talked about how he could trail (transition) plays to finish at the rim, and also trail to spot up for threes. Thibs keeps his thoughts mostly inside, so you need to listen closely to draw out any real substance. From what we heard on Tuesday, it sounds like he envisions Patton to be a pick-and-roll finisher and a big man who will help bolster a transition offense.
3) Improvement as a Skill
The other thing that Thibs repeated was that they have been watching Patton for years — apparently including his red-shirt year, according to Thibs — and they have been impressed by how quickly he is improving his game. Thibs talked about a time early last season, when Layden returned from watching Patton in a Creighton game. They both knew Patton’s coach, Greg McDermott (Doug’s father) and they labeled him as a key player to watch for the season. In doing so, they came away impressed by how many things were added to his game by the end of the season. They lauded the good coaching Patton received in Omaha and Layden threw in a light joke about great training he received from the Jesuits down there.
Patton himself talked about growing up playing guard — point guard, even — and “it just so happened” that he grew to be seven feet tall. Thibs said that he’s “just scratching the surface” as a defensive player and will need to add physical strength and adjust to the NBA rules before he’s ready to play. Layden likened playing under Thibs to “grad school” for Patton who leaves undergrad Creighton in his rear-view mirror after two years. In terms of how quickly he’ll be ready, Thibs — extremely unsurprisingly — focused on the step-by-step process, which begins with summer league, and then moves into training camp, and of course the regular season. Patton described his excitement about learning from not only Thibs, but also Jimmy Butler and the other players about life in the NBA and what goes into day-to-day professionalism.
Overall, Minnesota got a good first impression of Justin Patton.
Jimmy Butler, the more headliny acquisition of Draft Night, will be introduced at Mall of America on Thursday morning. Fans are encouraged to attend his intro.