Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie center Justin Patton finally took to the court as a member of the Iowa Wolves on December 8th, a little more than five months after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Since then, he has appeared in all four of the IAWolvesÂ (as not to be confused with the parent club’s Wolves moniker) averaging 10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.8 bpg, and 1.0 spgÂ in 17.0 mpg off the bench.
Patton has displayed intriguing tools on both sides of the court in his abbreviated season and I figured now would be as a good time as any to sift through the film and highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses he’s shown thus far.
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The Iowa Wolves have utilized Patton primarily in the pick-and-roll; an eye test estimate would be that 60-70% of all possessions Patton is involved in include at least one PnR action. His athleticism is undeniable as he has shown the ability to explode off of two feet and rise above defenders on multiple occasions.
Patton’s biggest weakness in the PnR thus far has been his inconsistent screening ability, however, it’s difficult to determine at this point if that’s on him or the guards he’s screening for. He’s shown a preference for slipping screens rather than setting strong picks to this point and when he does go to set a true pick he often whiffs or draws minimal contact.
He typically catches the ball cleanly, both when rolling and posting up, indicating that having the ever troublesome “hands made of cement” shouldn’t be a problem with him.
Despite what was shown in the above clip, finishing at the rim through contact, whether in the PnR or in the post, has been somewhat of a problem for Patton thus far. His shots are often left short, indicating he either doesn’t quite have his game legs under him yet or his defenders are forcing him out of position when he rises to get a shot off. He’s displayed decent footwork and a few solid moves in the post, which ultimately put himself in a position to get a clean look off, but they can be slow at times, which won’t work at the next level.
What stood out the most when watching Patton was his vision and passing ability, however, this probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as he played point guard in high school until he hit a major growth spurt. He has a good eye for open passing lanes as well as a nice feel for timing and execution.
Patton has solid shooting mechanics and nice touch both at the free throw line (he’s connected on 85.7% of attempts thus far) and from the field. His torso has a bit of a backward lean when he takes jumpers, but it doesn’t make his shot appear “wonky” or “broken”.
The seven-footer from Creighton seems to at least possess some natural instincts for defending the PnR as well as for providing help defense.
In the above clip, Patton can be seen showing with enough conviction that it forces the ball-handler to decide to either pull-up or pass out. The ball-handler decides to shoot, leaves it well short, and it goes right into the hands of one of his teammates under the basket. Patton immediately fell back after showing and put himself in position to get the block. He tends to attack the ball-handler in PnR situations rather than fall back and read (Gorgui Dieng does this frequently), which forces the ball-handler to make a quick decision.
However, sometimes he focuses too much on providing help and paying attention to the ball, which can lead him to lose track of his own man.
Despite having some instincts, help defense is largely still a work in progress for Patton. He has the physical tools – long wingspan, good size, good athleticism – to become a good defender, but the majority of the defensive plays he’s made to this point are a direct result of him simply being larger than the competition and sometimes he can appear slow to read the situation.
In this clip, Patton is sagging off too far from the screener, which provides too much space for the ball-handler to operate. Had he been closer to the screener from the onset of the screen, he would’ve been in a much better position to throw off the PnR. Even still, Patton is late to read and comprehend the obvious PnR that is about to unfold.
Patton is a fluid athlete who runs the court light on his feet and with surprising quickness. His lower body strength is probably the area that needs the most development, but that will come with age and an improved exercise regimen. He’s willing to bang down low in the post with opposing big men, but he’s moved off the block too easily; Patton’s strength deficits will only be exacerbated in the NBA.
In general, Patton has displayed promising tools and abilities on both sides of the court, but the sample size is still small. The way the IAWolves have utilized him to this point would seem to suggest that the Wolves would like him to mainly be a threat out of the PnR, both on offense and defense. He has soft hands and good shooting mechanics but needs to improve on finishing through contact as well as his touch around the rim. He has defensive instincts and good measurables but needs more repetitions to cement his abilities.
Patton will be an NBA player someday, but it may be in the Wolves’ and his best interests for him to spend most of, if not all of, this season in Des Moines; he’s still plenty raw and working himself back into game shape. Getting Patton playing time with the IAWolves is exactly why the Wolves partnered with the franchise in the first place: to help develop their young talent and get them experience they wouldn’t be able to while sitting on the bench in Minnesota.
Justin Patton and the Iowa Wolves are next in action Tuesday, December 19th at 7 pm. All games can be seen on Facebook Live or Twitch.com. Their complete schedule can be found here.