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That time I saw Justin Patton, Chris Mullin called him ‘Marcus Camby’

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Part of a series of reports on potential picks in this year’s draft

Jeffrey Armstrong

Justin Patton is one big man.

The first time I saw him, the first thing I said was, “Goddamn, he’s tall!” and then immediately opened up the Google to find out that he was only 19. I learned that the Creighton product has a 7’3 wingspan, a standing reach of over 9’3, a standing vertical of 26 inches, and a max vertical leap of 30.5. All packed into a nearly 7-foot, then 216-pound (now 229-pound) frame.

It was quite a night for the redshirt freshman when the Blue Jays came to St. John’s University on January 4, 2017. It was one highlight after another.

The first play that caught my attention was a put back dunk 9:12 into the first half to put Creighton up 19-11. Carnesecca Arena wasn’t too vibrant, so the slam sounded exceptionally loud. St. John’s called timeout, and Patton now had four points and three rebounds at this point.

Less than one minute of game time later, Davion Mintz finds Patton cutting through the lane, and Patton tomahawks it down.

With 2:31 left in the first, Patton takes and makes a mid-range jumper, showing off his range. I mean, hey, big men do that now, so cool.

At 1:02 until halftime. Patton grabs a defensive rebound and dishes it out to a guard. Runs the floor, which he does better than almost every big man in this draft, and gets the ball at the top of the key.

“He’s not shooting that,” I mutter as Patton takes and makes the three in stride, in motion, and effortlessly. “Wow.”

And it continued throughout the night as Patton finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. Notably, he shot 11-of-14 from the floor, made his lone three-point attempt, and hit a couple of free throws.

After the breakout performance, St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin offered an interesting tidbit to those of us at the press conference.

“He reminds me of Marcus Camby,” Mullin said matter-of-factly. “Great hands, even banged a three. Especially tonight, he looks All-NBA.”

I had heard of the near 7-foot, 215-pound raw center, and had seen a few highlights , but didn’t know that much. I made sure that my homeboy (and photographer), Jeffrey Armstrong, and I arrived early for that game... and stayed late to hear Mullen.

Ultimately, I covered four of his games this season, but we’ll get to the rest later. Let me reminisce about that first night ... and what he can or could do.

Patton finished the season with 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.2 assists per game and 0.9 steals per game. He led the Big East (by far) in field goal percentage, knocking down 67.6% of attempts (Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado was a distant second at 54.3%), was second in the conference in player efficiency rating at 25.3, third in true shooting percentage at 67.1%, third in plus/minus at +10.6, fourth with 50 blocked shots and fifth in rebounds.

He was also in the top-ten in other categories, such as field goals, offensive rating and defensive win shares. No surprise, he was Big East freshman of the year.

Anyhow, dude is nice, I thought. He’s great in transition, covers a lot of ground, a two-way player, can score without the ball, and protect the paint.

So much for Analytics! He passed the eye test.

I later caught Patton again three more times in the Big East Tournament on back-to-back-to-back nights, where Creighton reached the semi-finals before falling to Villanova. He did well and then he wouldn’t. Therein lies the issue with Justin Patton. He’s young, he’s raw and he’s inconsistent.

Here’s the scouting report on the other games where I saw him.

—Providence did a good job of holding him to 9 points, though Patton managed to record 8 rebounds and alter several shots on the defensive end. Patton also shot 1-of-6 on free throws in that game (4-for-6 from the field, for what it’s worth), an area where he hit only 51.7% as a frosh. The third-seeded Providence lost to the sixth-seeded Creighton, 70-58.

—In game two, the Jays played Xavier, and won a 75-72 thriller, where Patton tied for a team-best 21 points (15 in the second half) on 10-of-13 shooting. He also scored all of his points in the paint, with the exception of a three-point make on his lone downtown attempt.

—Against ‘Nova, Creighton lost 74-60, and Patton ended the night with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes, where he fouled out late in the second half.

By then, teams had more game plans attuned to him, not just Marcus Foster, the very talented Creighton guard. Foster showed why he’s a projected mid-to-late first round prospect (No. 19 on DraftExpress, No. 16 on NBADraft.net).

Still, he has come a long way. Patton is a one-and-done redshirt freshman, who had one college offer while in high school; from Creighton, his hometown school. The Jays developed the local boy from North High quite nicely.

He’s more of a face-up big, but showed a real ability to score with his back to the basket too, like he did against a Georgetown team with 6’10, 270-pound Jessie Govan, and a 7’0 foot, 260-pound back-up senior center in Bradley Hayes.

Despite all that big man competition, Patton had a 20-point (on 9-of-13 shooting), seven-rebound, two-block, two-steal showing at Georgetown.

He’s also an articulate 19-year-old. Listen to him the night he won the Freshman of the Year award.

That matters to the Nets. How else would he fit in with Brooklyn? Better than you might think.

The Nets have holes, one being depth on the frontline. I recently campaigned for Bam Adebayo, so my reasoning here is similar, except the two have different games.

Adebayo reminded me of Andre Drummond with a much better free throw percentage, whereas I’ll agree with coach Mullin on Patton being a modern version of Marcus Camby.

Patton was one of the best shot blockers in one of the best conferences in the NCAA as a raw redshirt freshman He has obvious potential for swatting shots at a high-rate in the pros. He’s bulked up significantly according to his combine measurements, and moving toward ‘the new NBA,’ as Net head coach Kenny Atkinson called it, Patton can spread the floor. He hit mid-range jumpers, and even knocked down 8-of-15 from deep at Creighton. Not a big sample, but he showed he can do it.

Atkinson could exploit that and make him step out a few feet, as he did (successfully) with Al Horford and Brook Lopez. Patton, unlike Adebayo, could actually line-up alongside Brook Lopez if needed, because of his skill set.

“His best basketball is still ahead of him,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said that night in Jamaica, Queens. “He just continues to grow and improve. A lot of it has to do with his work ethic and how he understands the value of competing on a consistent basis. We saw Justin as a junior in high school and to see him grow within, really just a few years, it’s incredible. He loves the game, he willingly takes coaching, and his teammates trust him – that’s not often the case with a freshman.”

He has some issues, as Draft Express notes...

His ability to rebound against NBA big men will be one of his biggest question marks heading into his professional career. He wasn't a dominant rebounder on either end and his 9.6 total rebounds per 40 minutes (7.1 on the defensive end) ranked near the bottom of centers in our top 100. While he has the explosiveness, second jump and soft hands to control the glass, he has struggled reading missed shots off the to be in the right position to rebound. He got outmuscled time after time on the glass and will need to add strength to his frame to be able to fulfill what will surely be a required role of his as a rebounder. Again, improving his physical toughness and mentality will go a long ways on this end, as he has the tools to be outstanding in this area if he puts his mind to it.

So, Patton has at least the makings to be one of the steals in this draft. Scouts may not be entirely certain that he will make his mark right away, but what he could become exactly what Brooklyn needs in a big. Scary.

You might…might need to trade-up a bit to get him, though. He’s at No. 19 now in DX’s latest mock draft. He’s been as high as 12, as low as 20. That’s close enough for the Nets to make a move to get him and get him into a gym to smooth over those raw edges.