First-Round Candidate: Justin Patton

Justin Patton, C/Creighton
Eric Francis/NBAE/Getty Images Sport
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ID CARD: 6-foot-11¼ center, Creighton, freshman, 20 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 28th by DraftExpress.com; 21st by ESPN.com; second among centers by NBA.com

SCOUTS LOVE: Lengthy and skilled and shot nearly 70 percent from the field. Those are the building blocks of Patton’s game. Patton averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in 25 minutes a game as a redshirt freshman for Creighton. He’s got shooting range, too, with an immediate ability to flourish from mid-range and the potential to develop into a 3-point threat. Patton took just 15 triples from the shorter college arc, but he made eight of them. He’ll need to gain strength – Patton just turned 20 last week – as he weighed only 229 pounds at the NBA draft combine last month. But he’s light enough on his feet that Patton could have a future as a power forward if he’s allergic to playing in the paint.

SCOUTS WONDER: Patton is an outlier in an age where elite NBA prospects are usually identified early in their high school careers. He grew from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-9 between his freshman and sophomore years. At a mid-major, he was redshirted as a freshman. That’s hardly the profile of your typical lottery pick. So pretty much everything scouts have on Patton came from his one season of college basketball. They haven’t seen him in different environments. Which makes it all the more curious that Patton – who worked out for the Pistons last week – only had draft workouts for six teams in addition to his early-June pro day.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 517 – Patton’s free-throw percentage. For a guy with such a light shooting touch, what does it mean that he made barely half of his free throws? That’s a tough one to figure. It’s also puzzling how a virtual 7-footer playing a mid-major schedule only managed to get to the foul line 2.5 times a game.

MONEY QUOTE: “I shoot high-percentage shots. If there’s a hand in front of you, it’s probably not a good shot. Or if somebody blocks your shot, it’s probably not a good shot. So I try to avoid those situations and just shoot shots that are within the offense and within myself – and I usually make ’em.” – Patton after working out for the Pistons on Thursday.

PISTONS FIT: As with the rest from a large pool of young big men trying to validate their lottery worthiness, Patton’s appeal to the Pistons goes up if they see him as being able to not only play both frontcourt positions but to complement those who’ll be his teammates. Can he play power forward next to Andre Drummond? Can he play center alongside Henry Ellenson or Tobias Harris? The Pistons will be on the hunt for a No. 3 center this off-season if, as anticipated, they lose Aron Baynes to free agency. The surest way to address that need would be to sign a low-cost veteran, a la Joel Anthony, who can be relied upon despite sporadic opportunity. But getting a young big man in a draft rich with them – and especially one who could play both frontcourt spots – could prove a smart play.

BOTTOM LINE: NBA teams have had more than a decade of having to deal with the flood of one-and-done players and, while they’ve no doubt gotten better thanks to that experience with projection, it’s still more art than science. Patton is fluid and lanky and – based on limited evidence – would appear to have plus potential at the offensive end with rim-protection tools in his kit, too. There’s a lot of potential there, but Patton might have a lower floor than some of the other young big men who’ll populate the middle and back end of the first round. It’s probably easier to draft a guy with that on his resume where the Pistons drafted last year, 18th, than it is at 12 in a draft where they figures to be a handful of players with more certainty available.