Justin Patton is one of the most intriguing players in the 2017 NBA draft class. Creighton was the only Division I school to offer the center a scholarship when he was coming out of high school, and he redshirted his freshman season. Now, one year later, he’s being discussed as a possible lottery pick after a terrific campaign with the Bluejays.
The big man was raw yet productive, averaging 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and .9 steals in 25.3 minutes per game. Per-40-minutes, he posted 20.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.4 steals. Patton was also incredibly efficient; his 25.3 PER was very solid and he shot 67.6 percent from the field, which ranked first among all Division I players this season and second in NCAA history for a freshman.
This is particularly impressive considering that he’s just 19 years old and still has so much untapped potential. Now, NBA executives are drooling over his ceiling as they evaluate him during the pre-draft process. If he made such huge strides in just one year, how good could be in his prime? That’s the question that teams with a draft pick in the teens are currently pondering.
At the NBA combine, Patton measured in at just under 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 9-foot-3.5 standing reach. He also showed off his quickness, with a 3.46-second sprint that ranked fourth among centers in this draft class. Anyone who watched him play this season shouldn’t be too surprised, as he was a great rim-runner who scored well in transition.
In HoopsHype’s most recent 2017 mock draft – courtesy of Aran Smith – Patton is projected to go to the Denver Nuggets in the lottery at pick No. 13. Patton worked out for the Nuggets, Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers, Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat. The NBA invited Patton to the draft’s green room, which is further evidence that his stock is soaring.
His meteoric rise over the last 12 months has been astonishing, so we caught up him to discuss his potential, which NBA players he studies, areas of his game he’s trying to improve, the pre-draft process and much more.
You had a pro-day in Las Vegas and you’ve worked out for some teams throughout the pre-draft process. When you’re in front of these NBA decision-makers, what are you trying to showcase?
Justin Patton: I’m really trying to showcase my natural abilities, like my explosiveness, my aggressiveness and, especially, my agility. I think that’s a big strength of mine – how quick I can move for my size and my lateral movements. I’m also trying to show them my skill set and shooting. Those are the main things that I’ve been focused on.
You’re still pretty raw and you’re only 19 years old, so a lot of NBA executives are excited about your potential. How much room for improvement do you feel you still have?
JP: I feel like I’m nowhere near my ceiling and how great I can be. When people see me now, in the back of my head I’m always thinking, ‘This is nothing, just wait.’ I have so much more room for growth. I’ve always known that about myself and that’s why my goal is to learn something knew every single day. I want to get better every single day and keeping adding different facets to my game, so that one day I can one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
This is a very strong draft class, so a lot of talented players are being overlooked a bit. Do you feel like you’re being underrated a bit as you go through the pre-draft process? And, if so, do you use that for motivation?
JP: Of course. I’ve always been underrated. I’ve never been dealt the cards that I wanted to be dealt, so I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. If I’m drafted first or 60th, it really doesn’t matter to me because my approach will be the same. Wherever I go, I know I’ll have to prove myself and I’m ready to do that. That’s been the case my entire life. I try to do the best I can with the cards I’m dealt and work really hard so that I can earn my spot, earn my keep, wherever I go.
What are some of the things you can contribute to an NBA team right away?
JP: I would say my intangibles and high basketball IQ. Also, I think I can help a team right away with my athleticism and the way I run the floor; you don’t always see that from guys who are my size. I also think I’m ready to be on the floor during intense points of the game, when basketball IQ and maturity are important. I feel like I’m ready for that. And people always say that you can’t stay on the floor in the NBA if you can’t defend. I think I’ll bring that to the table too. I think I’ve shown what I can do on the defensive end and I know I’ll keep improving.
You were training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and now you’re working out for teams. How are you enjoying the pre-draft process and the opportunity to focus on basketball 100 percent?
JP: It’s been so great, man. They’ve taken great care of us at Impact and really helped us improve. The group of guys has been great too: [Jawun Evans, Jaron Blossomgame, Edmond Sumner, Tyler Dorsey, Davon Reed and LJ Peak among others]. We come in every day ready to work. When we first got here, they told all of us that every day our goal should be to win the day. I think over the two months that we’ve all been here, we’ve embraced that and done well. Having the other prospects here, we all challenge each other and help each other improve. We all have the same goal and we know that we can’t slack at all if we want to reach that goal, so we push each other and hold each other accountable. And Joe [Abunassar] and Drew [Moore] from Impact have done a great job.
What are some aspects of your game that you still to improve?
JP: Honestly, I think I need to keep improving every aspect of my game just because I haven’t played at that level yet, so I know I’ll need to get acclimated. I’m changing my mindset to that of an NBA player. I do think one of the main things I need to work on is my strength, which will come as I get older and keep working. I want to work to become a better rebounder too. I think I’ve made huge strides there, but that’s an area I want to keep focusing on.
How do you feel like your game will translate to the NBA? It seems like your style of play lines up with what teams are looking for in centers these days.
JP: Yeah, I think my game will translate perfectly to the NBA. I’m coming into the league at the right time because it seems like my type of game – blocking shots and knocking down shots – is really needed and valued right now. I feel like it’s amazing situation for me.
Who are some NBA players whom you’ve modeled your game after or studied?
JP: DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert are two players who I’ve come to really enjoy watching and I see a lot of myself in them. I think we’re a little bit different offensively, but I look up to them because of where they came from and the success that they’ve had. I want my game to translate to the NBA the same way theirs did and I want to try to have the same kind of impact on games.
It seems inevitable that you’ll be selected on draft night; it may even be in the lottery. But what would it mean to hear your name called?
JP: It’s going to mean a lot – to me, to my family, to my city. It’s something that I’ve been dreaming about for years. It really is a dream come true, and I honestly don’t know what I’ll do when I hear that. I’ve never been through anything like that before, so I’m just going to try not to cry. It’ll probably happen, though. (laughs)
Once you do join your NBA team, what are some things you’ll try to do to improve throughout your rookie season?
JP: The first thing I’m going to do is just listen to whatever the coaches and veterans tell me. And I’m going to put in as much work I can. I want to be the first person in the gym and the last person off the floor, just to gain that experience and also gain the trust of the coaches and veterans on the team. I want to establish that I’m a hard-worker and show that I want to be on the court contributing.