Unpopular opinion alert: Patrick Patterson has the blue chip upside, not Thomas Robinson!
Two notes: One, A Substitute for War passed 100,000 lifetime page views! Although that feat gets less impressive when the amount of articles and days it took to get there it taken into account, it’s nice to be able to write something and know at least some people read it. Thank you to Matt Johnson for starting the blog and writing most of the early articles to help drive some traffic here, as well as any regular readers I might have. Secondly, the url is back to asubstituteforwar.wordpress.com though a quick check tells me typing in the old url should redirect it here, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
The most “fun” deal of the NBA trade deadline was Sacramento shockingly giving up on Thomas Robinson, half a season from picking him 5th overall. Now by writing this article I’m not fully endorsing the deal for Sacramento. Surely there was more trade value available for Robinson and it feels like their motive was to dump his contract as they prepare their sale to the Seattle group. If they get a blue chip player out of Patterson, my guess is it’s unintentionally.
The general reaction to this deal, was that Sacramento gave up a potential blue chip player or all-star in Thomas Robinson, for a player who know is average in Patrick Patterson. I argue the opposite may end up true.
While with the Rockets, Patterson was very high on my “He has everything he needs to be good, why isn’t he good? This player confuses me.” list. Breaking it down: Patterson has an above average feel for the game. He’s been heralded for his high IQ and awareness on both ends going back to his Kentucky days. His skill level for a power forward is also impressive. He’s had one of the best midrange shooting %s in the entire league, let alone for big men, for most of his career – shooting 46%, 43% and 47% from 16-23 feet his 3 seasons in the league, to go along with very impressive 3-9 ft and 10-15 ft career splits. This year the Rockets had him extending his range and taking 3s on a regular basis. He also has a solid looking post game and impressive hands around the basket. Finally, physically Patterson is a solid 6’9 and explosive enough to play above the rim. In my talent grading system this makes him a comfortable blue chipper. Say a 5 in physical impact talent, an 8 in skill impact talent and an 8 in feel for the game talent, is a score of 21 which is a legitimate blue chip player and not far off from all-star status. Those splits are a reminscent of a player like David Lee, who has an impressive feel, a perimeter jumpshot and great touch and respectable athleticism (I would say Lee is more athletic than Patterson, but Patterson’s perimeter skill game is better). Lee isn’t dominant in any of physically, skill or in feel, but being pretty good across the board, makes him a blue chipper. Where has Patterson gone wrong? His physical talents haven’t translated to the game, for the most part. His incredibly low FTA rate for his career (1.5 per 36 minutes for his career) indicates a player who isn’t attacking the basket. His first 2 years he averaged 1.7 and 1.6 shots at the rim, though this year he made the move up to 2.5 a game, solid for 25.9mpg. But with the Rockets blitzing pace, those may be freebie transition points he had to get. With that said, the Rockets specialized pick and roll heavy system, may be responsible for Patterson being used as a floor spacing shooter and not taking advantage of his athleticism attacking the basket. Furthermore his just under 3600 MP total in the league is relatively low. I tend to believe 6000-7000 is when players truly become what they are and that minutes are far more important than age for development stages. As a comparison, Patterson has played less minutes in his career than Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson, who are one and a half seasons into their careers. If taking the perspective that Patterson has the reps of a player midway through his 2nd season, it becomes a lot more believable that with more experience and in a new system, he taps into his impressive talent level as an athletic power forward with a high skill and feel for the game combination.
Thomas Robinson on the other hand is a player I’ve picked on for some time, beginning with ranking him out of my top 20 before the NBA Draft. Robinson is an NBA player, but in my opinion is a flawed talent. His biggest issue is his feel for the game is below average for a PF. He often plays like he’s in a permanent rush and the game moves fast for him and is choppy and robotic instead of smooth and natural. Robinson doesn’t make the game look easy, he makes it look like an effort. Other than that Robinson is a solid enough prospect. He’s got great explosiveness and strength for a power forward, which with solid ballhandling should translate to impressive physical impact on the game. In regards to his skill game, he doesn’t have great touch around the basket or post ability, but his midrange jumpshot is coming along very nicely. Robinson has a good combination of physical impact and skill impact talents, but the problem is that if a player is below average in physical impact, skill impact or feel for the game, to be a star he has to be an elite talent in the other two, not just a good one. Stephen Curry doesn’t physically impact the game a whole lot, but he has an amazing combination of skill and feel for his position. Andre Iguodala has a serious perimeter skill problem for a 2, but is dynamic physically and in feel. Robinson’s physical impact and skill impact as a combination is a notch below what it needs to be to still make it to blue chipper status despite questionable feel. If I gave Robinson an 8 in physical impact, 5 in skill impact and 2 in feel for the game, his score would be 15. This is enough for a long and solid career as a contributer. Unless he takes a big leap forward in skill or becomes dominant physically, my guess is he’s headed for a career resembling Kris Humphries and Jordan Hill, athletic, rebounding power forwards with a perimeter jumpshot, who have a hard time finding a starting role due to a lack of feel or versatility in their skill games. Of course, the Knicks dumped Jordan Hill midway through his rough rookie season to the Houston Rockets. It wouldn’t surprise me if this trade is similarly inconsequential to the Rockets as grabbing Hill was.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a guarantee Patterson is > Robinson. Patterson’s inability to mix it up physically could be a character flaw, not every player reaches their talent level. Robinson could also develop into such a dynamic combination of physical impact and skill plays to make up for his clearly unimpressive feel for the game. But I would bet on Patterson without hesitating.