Over a decade ago, the students at Huntington High School in West Virginia clamored whenever Patrick Patterson’s frequent recruiter Billy Donovan popped into town for a visit. The heralded McDonald’s All-American ended up choosing Donovan and University of Florida’s SEC rival, the University of Kentucky, for undergrad. But this summer, Donovan finally won the recruiting battle.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a lot of fun. Something I cherish,” Patterson said of Donovan’s high school visits. “It's very good and cool to be reunited again.”
This past July, Patterson was a free agent, scouring his options on the open market, trying to pinpoint where he would fit the best. He assessed his talents, his standing as a veteran in the league and the teams who had the opportunity to sign him. Most importantly, he looked to the people, and to the place where he’ll be spending his time for a large portion of the year. He chose Donovan and Oklahoma City.
“I'm a country boy, I'm from the south, so this is basically home to me out here,” Patterson said. “The only thing that really matters to me is being in an environment that I see people as my family. I see people as my friends and I just have fun, and that's basically what I see out here in Oklahoma.”
Patterson’s rural roots and affinity for the outdoors will mesh nicely with one of his brand new teammates - a former Eastern Conference rival – Paul George. Both have a love for fishing and enjoy getting out into nature, but they also have a respect level for one another on the court. Over the years, Patterson has witnessed George go through the gauntlet, leading a playoff team even while in his early 20’s. Now, George will get a chance to share that mantle with the league’s reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook.
“From what I've seen, (George) is one of the hardest workers in the league,” Patterson reported. “And one thing that I admire the most about him is his vocal leadership.”
“He's always talking, he's always active and always energetic, and I've always admired that about him,” Patterson continued.
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Patterson will provide some veteran savvy too. He’s been around the block with the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and most recently, the Toronto Raptors, where last season he finished 21st in the entire NBA in box score plus-minus at +347 over the course of the season, meaning his team was 5.3 points better per game with him on the floor than with him off of it.
To this Thunder squad, which has cornerstone superstars in Westbrook and George, Patterson will serve as that crucial mortar that helps the team be a cohesive unit. He’s an excellent screener and passer, and thanks to his time with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in Toronto, he understands the dynamics of NBA offenses that include two high level scorers. He can contribute efficiently as well from the power forward and even center position. Last season he shot 37.2 percent from three, where 65.9 percent of his shot attempts came from last season.
“Just pretty much spacing the floor, being a guy who can move the ball, distribute, pass, make the extra play, then when I have the opportunity to shoot, take advantage of that,” Patterson listed. “Russ (Westbrook) demands so much attention, same thing with PG (Paul George). Two great guys on the offensive side of the ball. So just trying to do whatever I can to ease the pressure off them. Moving the ball when they do get trapped, just trying to distribute and find someone.”
Patterson shot 41.2 percent on corner three’s last season as a catch-and-shoot stretch-four, while racking up 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game. With training camp just a few weeks away, the versatile frontcourt weapon will have the chance to earn a starting spot, or find his niche coming off the bench to be a contributor that way. Regardless, his defensive chops will be perhaps the most crucial element that he brings to the table.
“This is such a great defensive team, and it's only going to get better. So just using my ability, my awareness, and my IQ to help out in those areas too,” Patterson added.
As a veteran, Patterson has seen most players in the league enough to know their tendencies, which is a major benefit. He also has the physical tools to switch, move his feet, stay in front of guards, bang with the big men on the block and simply be in the right spot at the right time. He said that developing the communication and trust will be essential during the early going of the team-building process. From what he’s experienced so far in Oklahoma City and with the Thunder, he has full confidence that will come naturally.
“Since I've been here, I’ve seen how hungry everybody is to win and be successful,” Patterson said. “Just wanting to improve day-in and day-out, whether it's on the court or off the court. Being a true professional, with your family and friends and those you care about, but also with basketball too.”
That’s what the decision was all about for Patterson – a chance to be around good people, in an environment that was conducive to the most elusive, and fleeting thing in NBA basketball.
“The opportunity to win,” Patterson stated firmly. “The opportunity to compete for a championship and be with a team that's just as hungry as I am. To play alongside All-Stars and superstars. To be reunited with Coach Donovan again, and just be in an overall environment that I can be happy, be myself, flourish, and have the utmost fun.”