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Justin Patton would be an actual ‘younger and more athletic’ pick for the Bulls

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a project who could pay off

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Rhode Island vs Creighton Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

At this time last year, I’m not sure you could find one person here in Omaha that would’ve said Justin Patton would be a one and done player. His rise from unknown high school recruit, to redshirt freshmen, to potential first round draft pick after one season at Creighton, has been well documented throughout his breakout season this year with the Bluejays. And with the draft just one month away, Patton could very well be there at number 16 for the Chicago Bulls.

If management feels that they can retain Cristiano Felicio in free agency, then they probably don’t need a center. However, if they get an inclination that someone will pitch a big offer sheet to the Brazilian big man, then they may be inclined to take Patton as insurance.

On the other hand, as has happened in years past, if Patton is there at 16 and management feels he’s the “best player available” regardless of need, then there’s a chance we see him wearing red and white next season.

Regardless of the process they would take in choosing Patton at 16, we know that he’s on their radar. At this year’s draft combine, Patton made the comment that he was shocked at how much the Bulls knew about him. This as we all know shouldn’t be a surprise considering management’s relationship with Creighton coach Greg McDermott, father and coach of former Bulls and blogger favorite, Doug McDermott.

By the time the draft comes around, Patton will have just turned 20 years old. Measuring at 7’0” and 230 pounds with a 7’3” wingspan at the combine, Patton possesses many skills big men his size aren’t able to do both on offense and defense. However, given that he was a late bloomer, and has little experience on the court, Patton will surely be a project for the first couple of years in the NBA.

Strengths

In his lone season at Creighton, Patton was not the focal point of the Bluejays potent offense, though that doesn’t minimize the impact he had for them. As a seven footer, Patton runs the floor extremely well, often being the first one down the floor looking for transition baskets or pinning his man under the basket for early post-ups.

But two of the most impressive pieces of his offense are his ability to put the ball on the floor in open space, and making the right reads and finishing out the of the pick-and-roll. Being a guard before his growth spurt halfway through high school allowed him to develop his court vision and ball handling. When he gets the ball in open space or out of the PnR that comes in handy when needing to evaluate the floor and find the open man within a split second.

With his 7’3” wingspan, Patton was a constant presence out of the PnR at the rim for Creighton. A lot of the Bluejays offense prior to Mo Watson’s injury was predicated around the PnR with Patton and surrounding them with shooters, which bodes well for his future in the NBA. Patton’s ability to catch a lob and finish, but to also catch, and gather himself and finish through traffic is a skill desperately needed in today’s game.

Knowing that today’s game is so heavily revolved around the PnR, it’s vitally important that you have big men who can defend it. For as young and as little experience that Patton has, he can defend the PnR quite well. I can honestly say that this year’s Creighton team was one of the best defensive units they’ve had in recent memory, and part of that can be attributed to Patton.

Patton’s extremely agile for someone his size, and foot speed is damn impressive. Creighton’s defensive scheme called for their bigs to hedge and recover. Which means for the big to come out and hedge the ball screen until the guard can get through the screen, then recover to his man. Patton showed a great ability to, when focused, hedge and stay in front of smaller defenders out of the PnR. I’ll be honest, there were times where it just left you amazed at how well he could do it. And it will bode very well for him at the next level as he continues to develop and learn more intricate defensive schemes.

Weaknesses

While he is 7’3”, Patton’s frame is still very slender even at 230 pounds. Offensively, because of his frame he has a tendency to get pushed off the block, to a point where it takes him out of being a scoring threat with the ball. And if he does happen to get the ball down low against bigger opponents, it becomes tougher for Patton to finish over or through them.

The same can be said for him defensively in terms of his size. Bigger defenders are able to pin him underneath the basket for post position, or catch the ball on the block and back him down for easy looks around the basket. Even though he added almost 30 pounds during his redshirt season at Creighton, Patton will need to continue working on building out his body to withstand the physicality and strength opposing big men will bring in the NBA.

Patton is also very raw as a basketball player. He’s not someone who’s played through the AAU circuit since he was in grade school; he’s still learning the game and the different capabilities he has at his size. On offense, he has to continue to work on refining his post moves. He’s got great footwork, but it needs to become more polished, and he has to become a bigger threat when he gets the ball down low.

Then there are the little mistakes younger players tend to make; decision-making on offense, forcing a pass or shot, and staying attentive on defense when away from the ball. But these are things that Patton will hopefully get better at with time in the NBA.

Justin Patton is one of the intriguing prospects in this draft given his history. But you can read any draft report, and most if not all will say his potential is endless. He may not have an immediate impact, but down the road there’s a good chance Patton could become a difference maker for one lucky team.