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Friday July 9, 2010 9:42 PM

The Real Deal

Patrick Patterson shines in summer league debut

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

Houston - There will come a day, probably soon, that it won’t be this easy for Patrick Patterson.

Not every game will find him shooting 8-of-9 from the floor – including a pair of 3-point bombs – while scoring an uber-efficient 18 points (with 0 turnovers!) during a tidy 20 minutes of playing time. But this one did. And it’s oh-so-special because it also happened to double as his debut performance in a Rockets’ uniform.

True, summer league basketball is not the NBA. Nowhere close, in fact. More often than not, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That is to say, summer league is not always an accurate barometer for measuring a prospect’s true pro potential. Recent history is littered with players who tear it up in Sin City, only to fall flat when the real games begin. So though it’s fair to say summer league gives us a glimpse, it’s certainly not to be confused with the whole picture.

Still, how could one not be impressed with Patterson’s play during the Rockets 100-82 win over Phoenix on day 1 of the summer league slate in Las Vegas? The No. 14 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Patterson came into the league with a reputation for owning an NBA-ready body and an NBA-ready mind for the game. Both were on display Friday afternoon as the Kentucky-product ran the floor with ease, subtly slid into open spaces on the offensive end and never appeared rush or hurried with the ball in his hands – the tell-tale sign of a young player still trying to find his place in this man’s game.

If nerves affected Patterson at all, they only revealed themselves on his initial shot from the floor: an air-ball from the baseline at the conclusion of a play that had been drawn up specifically for him and one which had been run to perfection. But from that point forward, the 21-year old played with the poise of a seasoned vet, making every minute count on his way to finishing with a plus-minus of +13, second only to Chase Budinger’s +14.

Not surprisingly, his play caught the attention of everyone in attendance, including ESPN.com’s authority on young hoops talent David Thorpe, who even sent out a tweet at one point in the game praising Patterson as the best rookie he’s seen so far this summer.

“I thought he was excellent today,” said Thorpe after the game. “Offensively especially, he showed what he can do off the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, he made two 3s, he played real efficiently and within himself. He was really under control and did what he was supposed to do on both ends. He didn’t rebound great but that’s because the ball just didn’t go his way. He wanted the rebounds – it wasn’t like he ran away from the ball. He looked like a polished player.

“He was a top-10 talent in this draft and Houston is, in my opinion, enormously lucky that he fell to 14. He’s one of the best players in the draft and he projects to be one of the best players over the next five years from this draft. I think you saw that today.”

For his part, Patterson felt he did “pretty well,” but spent most of his postgame interview discussing all the work he needs to do in order to make himself even better – especially on the defensive end.

“I mess up tremendously on defense a lot,” he conceded. “I felt like I did poorly on on-ball defense. I let Earl Clark get to the basket on me. I’m still struggling with not being able to put two hands on their body in the post but I’m just trying to work hard and improve on that.

“In college you rarely see a big who can turn around, face-up and blow by you. Now in the NBA everywhere you go you’re going to see it. So it’s definitely an adjustment to see someone who’s just as big as me and also quicker than me sometimes, too. So I just have to adjust to that and be able to move my feet to play better defense than I have been in the past.”

Yes, there’s plenty of work still to be done. And, yes, there will be days when Patterson looks bad and looks every bit like the rookie he is. But not today. Today was about the start of fulfilled promise and potential, and about affirmation for the Rockets’ basketball operations department which had Patterson ranked as the 6th best prospect on their board heading into this year’s draft.

There were raised eyebrows and quizzical looks when that particular nugget of information was revealed. There were some who felt as if that surely must have been spin from a team attempting to justify its selection.

Suffice to say no spin was necessary. The kid can play. And today he made it look downright easy.

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