Draft Profile: 7-Footer Justin Patton Could Be A Hawks Target

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As rumblings continue surrounding our interest in a big man, another name that could be available at #19 is Creighton center Justin Patton.  Patton is a true 7-footer who can run the floor and could develop under head coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff.  To learn more about Patton, we spoke to Tom Nemitz (@WBR_Tom) with White and Blue Review (@whitebluereview), and independent website covering the Creighton Blue Jays:

What are Justin’s strengths?

Justin Patton has great hands, great balance and good footwork, which makes him appear quicker in game situations than his combine numbers would lead you to believe. Combined with his ability to run the floor, it’s a skillset not many true seven footers have, even in the NBA.

He shot nearly 70% from the field, with 72 of his 200 made field goals coming on a dunk, no doubt inflating that percentage a bit. Though it's an extremely small sample size, he did make 8-15 from three-point range, so he’s not strictly a scorer at or around the rim.

How does his game translate to the NBA?

Patton's skillset fits in well with the new era of NBA big men -- he's not going to score much on post-up opportunities, but moves extremely well without the ball and his soft hands allow him to catch tough passes in traffic and while on the move. Offensively, it's pretty easy to project Patton as a productive player immediately.

Defense is another story. He has the tools to be a good defender, but too often relies on his lateral quickness to compensate for a lack of fundamentals in his footwork. He's really raw on the defensive end, and was too often exposed when Big East teams saw him a second or third time this winter. As he grows into his body, builds strength, and gains experience he'll improve but entering the league he'll be a liability on defense. 

What can he do to improve?

Quite simply, Patton has to get stronger. He put on significant weight during his redshirt season at Creighton, but he's still not big or strong enough to hold his ground in the paint. It isn't that he plays "soft" so much as he just doesn't yet have the body to be able to absorb contact. He had just 87 free throw attempts this season in 35 games, and made just 51.7% from the line. I'd think those are both red flags to NBA scouts.

The lack of strength hurts him defensively and on the glass, as well. He averaged six boards a game despite 11 games -- basically a third of the season -- where he had 8 or more in a game because against teams with stronger or more physical big men, he was pushed around too much. The same could be said defensively. Against teams with big, physical centers or power forwards, he often struggled to defend without fouling.

Almost everything I've heard and read indicates scouts are fairly sure he will improve defensively and on the glass as his body matures; the question is how long it will take and where his ceiling is. Whoever drafts him will need to be willing to stash him in the G-League for a year of heavy-duty strength and conditioning. That could make him intriguing to a team like Atlanta, who has the luxury of Dwight Howard as their current center and could give Patton a year or two to develop. 

What style of play suits him best?

Patton excels on pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, and thrives in an offense where he can run the floor. He'll be far more successful in an offensive scheme where he's allowed to run in the open floor than one where he's asked to play a more traditional back-to-the-basket role.

To which current NBA player would you compare him?

After an early January game in NYC where he decimated St. John's on both ends of the floor, Red Storm coach Chris Mullin compared Patton to Marcus Camby. I like that comparison, but it’s not perfect; Camby had a similar frame at 6'11", 220 but had much better defensive skills while Patton is better offensively. That's a bit of a cop-out, though, since you asked for a current NBA player and Camby's been out of the league for a few years. 

Other comps I’ve seen on scouting reports are LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrew Bogut, but I’d compare Patton to more of a Thon Maker-type — a very skilled, mobile, seven-footer who’s a bit of a project.