Ball movement. Playmaking. Teamwork.
These terms have been attributed to the modern-day Atlanta Hawks since the arrival of Coach Mike Budenholzer from San Antonio in 2013. Prior to the revolution, the Hawks had struggled to make it out of NBA purgatory, as a middle-tier team that relied far too heavily on isolation play and inconsistent stars.
Things have changed in Atlanta and it’s evident that the coaching staff is on the look-out for young players to come in and play their style of basketball. No example is more obvious than Hawks rookie Lamar Patterson.
Coming out of Pittsburgh as a senior in 2014, Patterson struggled to gain a ton of traction as a legitimate NBA prospect. In fact, after the Hawks drafted Walter Tavares in the 2nd Round, he wasn’t sure he’d be drafted at all. Luckily for both Lamar and the team that selected him, the Hawks gave up a 2015 2nd rounder to Milwaukee for the 48th overall pick in the 2014 draft and selected the 6’5 swingman from Lancaster, PA.
Sure, there were upsides, such as his shooting stroke, court-vision, and experience, but his weight and athleticism were concerns to some that scouted him in the draft process
While the general point he makes here rings true, Chad Ford at ESPN described Patterson in a way that we can prove is no longer correct.
Patterson is the sort of blue-collar swingman that the Hawks love; he does a little bit of everything, but has zero sexiness to his game.
Contrary to this belief, Lamar Patterson has plenty of sexiness to his game! In fact, he prides himself on the ability to make the tough read and deliver a tasty dish to his teammates. This guy just loves to have fun on the court and it’s clear as day when you watch him play.
Plenty of players have labels that give credit to the biggest strengths of their game. Kyle Korver is a shooter. Dennis Schroder is quick. Mike Scott is a quick trigger.
Lamar Patterson is a basketball player.
There’s really no other way to describe his impact on the floor without being too nitpicky. He can impact the game without even scoring, just by reading the floor and picking his spots to attack. Lamar has a high basketball IQ and fits himself in great spots for the offense to function, often sliding to and from the corner to create a better angle for the player trying to pass him the ball, as he shows in the following clip.
Per 100 offensive possessions, the Hawks are scoring 108.7 points with Patterson on the floor, which stands as the highest offensive rating on the team. That’s 2.1 points higher than the next best, offensive juggernaut Kyle Korver (106.6). I don’t think there were more than a handful of folks that suggested Patterson would play much this year, much less lead the team in this category. While the stat might suggest that Lamar Patterson is the cause of all these points, what it really shows is that the flow of the Hawks’ offense is most effective with Patterson on the court. His contributions help the team achieve it’s highest level of offensive productivity.
In terms of his game, Lamar was recognized coming out of Pitt as a versatile threat by DraftExpress.
Though he was not, is not, and will never be a point guard, Patterson is a very creative passer for his size, showing the ability to find teammates in both half-court and transition settings. His decision-making, in particular, is impressive, perhaps best exemplified by his ability to balance scoring and distributing out of the pick-and-roll and in transition. Patterson’s basketball IQ and willingness and understanding of how to make teammates better is a major asset, one that could endear him greatly to a NBA coaching staff looking for depth on the wing.
Spot on. That creative passing and playmaking ability has given Lamar a spot on the Hawks this season, and he takes every opportunity he can to fit a ball in a window no one else sees as open. From the get-go, this was the first thing I noticed about Lamar. He made his debut in the opener against Detroit and it didn’t take long for him to show his stuff.
Lamar patiently waits for an opportunity, then drives in and slips the dump-off in between the defenders and into Al Horford’s rather large hands. But it doesn’t just stop with his driving.
Lamar finds the angle for the pass in a way that is truly special. How’s that for some sexiness?! The one-handed hurl made more sense after l learned that his older brother, Perry, quarterbacked Syracuse from 2003-2006. Thanks, internet!
I’m not going to lie, that last one got me kind of excited. I mean, how sweet was that pass?!
I had the privilege of chatting with Lamar in Dallas in early December and he was extremely well spoken. When I asked him about his ability to share the ball and read the floor, he shared a great response.
“I pride myself on that. I grew up just wanting to be like Magic Johnson, doing all that Showtime stuff on the fast break,” said Patterson. “I love involving everybody. It’s not my place to go out there and try to score. I just take my open shots, got to knock those down. [I just] play defense, rebound, [and] be a playmaker. I pride myself on those things.”
One trait that hasn’t carried over to the NBA as well as Lamar would’ve liked is his shooting. Labeled as someone who would be a weapon as a distance shooter, that’s been the part of his game that is holding him back. DraftExpress notes that he shot 39% on college threes with seven long-range attempts per 40 minutes, but that his mechanics showed some inconsistencies and that he “would have to streamline his shooting motion if he hopes to emerge as a shooting specialist at the next level, which could be a major key in whether he’s able to carve out a niche in the NBA.”
Strictly a spot-up shooter at this stage of his career (82% of his field-goal attempts have come without taking a dribble, per nbasavant.com), Patterson is chucking up treys at a 24.4% clip, which is well below the league average. His shot looks pretty, at least to my eye, but the results just haven’t been there. It’s too early to label him as a sub-par shooter, but an alarming statistic shows that Patterson is shooting just 20% (6-for-30) on shots with a defender at least six feet away from him, per nbasavant.com. Perhaps these are just the jitters of being too open? Whatever the case may be, we can be sure that Lamar is working on his craft and making every attempt to grow as a player.
“[I’m definitely] trying to knock down my open three-pointers more consistently. I have to get it off a lot faster playing against longer and quicker guys; you just have that split-second to get it up,” Patterson told me. “But really [I’m working on] everything. Like you said, I’m a basketball player so I want to be complete in everything. Conditioning my body, reading the NBA game better. It’s a lot of work but its all fun.”
Glancing at the rest of his shot-chart, it shows how his offensive contributions are essentially limited to threes and the occasional drive at this point. He has shown the potential to grow into a solid off-ball cutter, however he hasn’t demonstrated it enough to this point. I have no doubt that this ability will increase exponentially as he continues to learn the finer details of the Hawks offense.
An encouraging number is the 68.8% around the restricted area. I took the liberty of watching each of those makes on NBA.com’s video catalog and they weren’t just bunnies. After receiving a pass down low, he’s shown off a knack to fight through bigger players and finish around the rim.
Defensively, Patterson hasn’t been “good” per say, but he’s been what you would expect from a young player. According to NBA.com’s Player Tracking data, opponents shoot 2.6% above their average field goal percentage when being guarded by Patterson. Of course, we must remember that even though he was in college for five years and Turkey for another, he’s still a rookie in the NBA. The guys he’s guarding are no cake walk to match up with.
Let’s give him another year before we really judge his defensive abilities. Just look at Doug McDermott in Chicago. Sometimes it just takes time and practice.
Patterson is definitely making adjustments in his first NBA season after a year in Turkey. It says a lot about this team that he speaks so highly of his transition to the Association.
He believes when “you have a group of guys like this – it’s like a family. Go on the road, talk some junk and play some cards, it’s great. Like any other family, you have ups and downs. We’ve got to figure stuff out sometimes. But it’s great. When you have all these vets on your team, it’s great to look up to.”
He was the last player to make the team after training camp. And now he’s playing solid minutes for one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference. Such a terrific example of dedication and fighting until the last second. I was proud of him just for that.
Lamar Patterson is out to prove that he’s no fluke. He’s improving by the second and working his tail off day-in and day-out. His game is so incredibly appealing — dare I say it, sexy. Here’s the best part: his abilities can only go up from here.
We all have players across the league that we just can’t help but root for, no matter the situation. It hasn’t even been half of a season, but Lamar Patterson has already earned himself a lifelong supporter.
And I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes next.