Justin Patton was not very familiar for draftniks around the internet prior to the season. He was unranked by ESPN coming out of high school, and then redshirted in his first year at Creighton.
But two months into his collegiate career, the 19-year-old (who turns 20 in June) has already become a household name, helping lead the Bluejays to 15 wins over their 16 games.
Patton has impressed the most with his positional defense up until this point. It’s rather surprising how far along he is for a first year player in terms of being fully aware of his responsibilities protecting the basket.
He is mobile enough to extend his pick-and-roll coverage above the foul line, wall off dribble penetration to prevent opponents from getting to the rim in a lot of instances and keep pace with smaller players on straight-line drives when they get downhill.
Patton has also flashed a lot of intelligence making his rotations coming off the weak-side, beating dribble drivers to the spot and forcing them into pull-ups from the dead zone. When they still try to challenge him, he’s proven himself able to get off the ground without any struggle and use his nine-foot-two standing reach to jump up vertically or block shots, as he’s averaged 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes – according to basketball-reference.
Generally speaking, Patton just makes a lot of plays that show he’s focused on what’s going on around him. Creighton plays a four-out offense and as a consequence, it often puts some players on the floor who might be vulnerable to getting posted up and Patton’s been attentive to his double-and-recover responsibilities in these instances as well.
POST DEFENSE & REBOUNDING
Creighton lists Patton at 230 pounds but that weight is not yet all that well distributed for a seven-footer, as he has plenty of room to improve his frame in terms of both upper body and core strength.
At this point, Patton can’t prevent deep seals by opposing big men in the post and struggles to hold his ground. He also isn’t yet able to bully guys from out of under the rim when he gets physical with his boxouts.
Patton can rebound in traffic, able to use his standing reach and leaping ability to high point the ball, but has not been a dominant presence. His motor leaves something to be desired. He’s collected 19.9% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor, which is not a particularly impressive figure, especially considering he’s often the single true big man Creighton has on the floor.
Aside from his defense, Patton is also a very appealing prospect because he’s shown some flashes of being able to do just about anything on offense.
He’s gotten quite a few post touches and showcased pretty good potential with his back to the basket. His footwork is pretty fluid and his arsenal of moves (still in its infancy) is fairly diverse; smart use of shot fakes, an up-and-under, hook over opponents’ right shoulder, left handed toss, face-up drive from the high post.
Aside from short drives, Patton has also proved himself capable of taking opposing centers from the top of the key to the basket on straight line drives. That’s the case because he’s hit five three-pointers this season and opponents have closed out to him with more urgency over the last few games, making themselves vulnerable to being attacked off the bounce. Patton’s catch-and-shoot release seems workable, though the touch in his shot is only so-so and his 48.8% shooting on free throws puts in question whether that’s something he can develop into a real asset.
He’s well coordinated attacking off the bounce, flashing the ability to pump-fake a three, dribble by a closeout and kick out to a shooter spot-up on the strong side. Patton has long strides to cover a lot of ground in a few dribble but can’t really get by his man on quickness and hasn’t yet learned to draw contact, as he’s earned just 4.2 foul shots per 40 minutes.
Patton has also flashed some very appealing court vision, suggesting there is room for him to eventually become someone who can help facilitate offense from the elbows.
But all these flashes he’s shown regarding his skill level are intriguing for the future. In the present, Patton’s role is as a rim runner in transition and out of the pick-and-roll, as he’s posted only a 20.8% usage rate and attempts at the basket accounted for 72.1% of his live ball offense, according to hoop-math.
The website ranks Creighton third in the country in percentage of shots in transition and Patton is a huge reason for that. He’s fluid and well coordinated sprinting up the floor and has consistently beaten his opponents changing ends of the court.
In the half-court, Patton dives hard to the basket in the screen-and-roll, has soft hands to catch the ball in traffic and pretty good touch on non-dunk finishes within close range, converting a jaw-dropping 85.7% of his 98 shots at the rim. He can also play above the rim as a target for lobs and constantly stresses the defense, even when he’s stationed on the back-side.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara