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Friday December 10, 2010 3:06 PM

Moving On Up


Patrick Patterson making the most of his D-League experience

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Playing in the D-League is not a scarlet letter, stigma or kiss of death.

That is the misconception the Rockets and, quite frankly, the rest of the NBA are slowly but surely beginning to change.

It’s a banner the Rockets have waved proudly for years now, most notably with the success enjoyed by point guard Aaron Brooks both during and after his successful stint with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers his rookie season. And it’s also a cause in which the organization has put its money where its mouth is, joining forces with the Vipers a year ago to ensure complete philosophical continuity between both franchises from top to bottom.

That special symmetry has made the D-League an even greater resource for the Rockets and it’s a big reason why the club showed no hesitation in assigning rookie Patrick Patterson to Rio Grande Valley earlier this season. For some, such a move might be viewed as anathema to a lottery selection’s future success at the NBA level. But Houston’s developmental philosophy aims to make that misguided notion a thing of the past.

Put simply, the Rockets place their faith in the novel belief that players improve the most by actually playing. So after seeing Patterson start the NBA regular season with a string of games which saw his name on the inactive list, the Rockets moved quickly to make sure the rookie’s immediate growth was not temporarily stunted – a decision that has delivered dividends for both the player and the team.

“Some teams fear when a lottery pick is sent down to the D-league but we didn’t waste any time,” said Rockets Vice President of Player Personnel and Vipers General Manager Gersson Rosas. “We studied the Rockets’ schedule pretty closely and we knew there was going to be a stretch of games where there wasn’t going to be a lot of practice time. I don’t know if we created a domino effect, but sending Patrick down resulted in a number of teams doing the same thing. It helps everybody because you’re raising the level of talent in the D-League and when you do that it’s going to take development to a higher level.

“Patrick went into a situation where the coaching staff knew the Rockets’ objectives and what we wanted to see from him. To our benefit, Patrick came in with the right mindset and took advantage of the opportunity and he’s been very productive and consistent during his time there.”

Indeed, Patterson seized his opportunity with the Vipers and milked it for all its worth. The Kentucky product is averaging 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game with the Vipers, essentially becoming the Al Horford of the Developmental League. He ranks 10th overall among all D-League players in efficiency with a 22.3 rating and is 2nd among forwards who have played a minimum of 5 games.

What’s more, Patterson appears to be gaining momentum every day as seen by his domination of New Mexico Wednesday night during a contest which saw him explode for 24 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocked shots – precisely the sort of interior ownership the Rockets wanted to see from their prized rookie.

“Our focus with him is just to be the dominant inside player he was early on in his college career,” said Rosas. “We want him to be a guy who can dominate the glass, be productive in the post and just be an active body running the floor and in the paint at both ends. That’s where we needed him to get to.

“We feel like his physical strengths and upside are centered more on him controlling the paint, and that’s an area of need for us both now and moving forward. That’s one of the big reasons we drafted him, because of his versatility to score in the post and to be a rebounder and defender in that area.”

Like anything else in life, the amount gained from an experience is often times directly proportional to the amount of effort put in. That Patterson embraced this opportunity is no surprise – his reputation as the ultimate team player has followed him every step of his basketball career. Still, it’s to his credit that he did not pout or fall victim to the silly stigma some still wish to attach to D-League assignees. Instead, he simply did what he’s done from the beginning: put his head down, go to work and continue the process of shaping himself into the best player he can possibly be.

“He fit easily into the team,” said Vipers Head Coach Chris Finch. “He didn’t come down here to try to make it all about him. He knows obviously what his development needs are. We want him to be a big part of what we’re doing and, in fact, sometimes he probably needs to be a little bit more assertive instead of just trying to blend in but he’s just that type of player: he’s very much a team-first guy. He’s been really good.”

According to Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, Patterson will play two more games with the Vipers before being recalled by the Rockets this Sunday. It remains to be seen how many minutes he’ll earn upon arrival since Houston still has the likes of Luis Scola, Jordan Hill and Chuck Hayes manning the frontcourt positions. But at least this much is certain: the Rockets will be getting an improved Patrick Patterson. And isn’t that the point?

The Rockets forsee a future in which basketball more closely resembles the baseball model; a paradigm in which nearly all young players spend quality time in the minors honing their craft. Sooner or later, the D-League stigma will fade into antiquity. And players like Patterson, Brooks and so many others before them will become the rule rather than the exception.

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