“OK, it’s just the two Raptors, right? You’re sure the third one’s contained?”
Dr. Alan Grant, Jurassic Park (1993)
Today’s lecture is an archeological dig into the now extinct Toronto Raptors. In particular, it’s a case study of the realized potential of Patrick Patterson and the emergence of World’s Best Dad, Bismack Biyombo. I hope to dig up old bones and provide the missing-links for the future of this duo’s and the Raptor’s evolutionary path.
The Raptors certainly had a cinderella season after getting swept in last year’s playoffs by the soft and slow body of Paul Pierce. They responded to the critics’ cries that they would lose to the Pacers in the first round and, later, the Heat in the second round. Even seasoned fans thought that the Raptors regular season was an over performance at best, and a fluke at worst. Queue the 2016 NBA playoffs and the Raptors put together their best season of all time, taking 2 games in a row from a Cavs team who looked utterly infallible up until that point. Lowry and DeRozan were obviously key to this teams success, but the emergence of Biyombo and Patterson gave this team the extra fuel they needed to take it to 0 from 100 real quick
I hate myself for that.
You may know Patrick Patterson as the dude with A+ potential in NBA 2k11-2K13. I distinctly remember having a team where he became a 93 rated KD clone who could drive, pass, shoot and jump out of the gym. The weird thing about Patterson is that it is obvious to see how all of the pieces he has could coalesce and make him a borderline amazing player. Instead, we watched him develop into a slightly less streaky version of Jeff Green – capable of routinely producing plays that make you wonder why he never pulled the pieces together. For reference the guy has a 8’11 standing reach, can shoot the the ball, and has borderline elite athleticism.
The Raptors didn’t pick up Patterson expecting him to blossom into a star, they needed a guy who could score, and more importantly, stretch opposing big men out towards the three point line. In the playoff games he started, he provided valuable space, which Toronto desperately needed without Jonas Valančiūnas on the floor. DeRozan is not a threat from three and Lowry was mostly off from three this postseason. Meanwhile, Biyombo shoots like Deandre Jordan. Needless to say, Patterson was an invaluable cog in this 2016 run.
In the following clip you can see Patterson dragging Deng out to the three point line, where he was obliged to follow. He then uses his speed and size to get in for the and-one off a put-back.
Patterson can also take advantage of the fast break, which was critical for the team when resting either Lowry and Derozan:
The shocking degree to which Biyombo shined this off-season was in large part due to the fact that Patterson could spread the floor. Every DeAndre needs a Blake, just like every Tyson Chandler needs a Dirk. Before someone invests in Biyombo stock, they need to ensure that they have a power-forward who can unclog the paint and flip around screens like Patterson.
Great call by JVG mentioning Patterson flipping the direction of his screens. CLE had no clue what to do w/ it, which is kind of a problem.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 24, 2016
Despite his distinct lack of eye-popping stats, Patterson helped the Raptors utilize Biyombo to the fullest.
Bismack emerged like a beautiful butterfly in the playoffs, stringing together the flashes of talent he showed in his first years in Charlotte. His evolutionary path seems to be what Patterson was never able to do: putting together the puzzle to become the world’s greatest dad.
Despite being in the league since 2011, Biyombo is only 23 years of age. For his entire tenure in the NBA Bismack was widely considered to be the least polished offensive player in the NBA, and a “total project”.
He struggled creating any offense if not right under the rim, and struggled to pass out of situations where help defense trapped him:
Biyombo excelled by not only becoming marginally less awful at offense, but also by focusing heavily on amplifying his strengths and playing with his head up. His ability to read the offense and pass out shows shades of a young Deandre Jordan, which would obviously make him a piece that a team would want to invest in. His Per 36 stats in the 2015-2016 season are eerily similar to those of a 23 year old Deandre Jordan, except worse offensive decision making and a better rebounder:
Biyombo broke out with his elite rebounding: notice his quick decision making to protect the ball and make the correct pass after the rebound:
The fact that Biyombo was consistently out rebounding Tristan Thompson, who is an elite force on the boards in his own right shows that Biyombo has an enate sense for positioning and timing. Blocks are also a great display of one’s natural timing. Biyombo just needs to apply these same skills that make him amazing on defense and apply them offensively instead of allowing the defense to trap him or open options. Even on Charlotte he was showed the ability to make swift defensive decisions that show that he has a great grasp on how offenses will operate:
Biyombo’s value will be driven up by of elite defensive skills and his rebounding, but teams will likely overpay for him in this upcoming free-agency, hoping that he can increase his offensive skill-set and offensive IQ to match his sense for rebounding and defensive IQ. That just might happen if Biyombo goes to a team where he could learn from a good shooting coach and expand his effective range of offense. Wherever he plays, he needs to play alongside a stretch four to negate the fact that Biyombo is still a liability from outside of 10 ft (and sometimes even inside of it). Time will tell if he becomes anywhere near as effective as a pick and roll threat/elite defender as Deandre Jordan, but if he is prudent, he will view Jordan’s evolutionary path as a roadmap for his own, perhaps adding his own unique adaptations along the way.
Biyombo’s offensive flashes in the pan are becoming more and more frequent. He is also avoiding taking shots that he usually never makes (hook-shots, to be specific). If Biyombo can reach the 60% efficiency mark on the offensive end, he could become a key piecefor a team, especially a team that has a great point guard to initiate the pick and roll. Some natural fits for him are the Lakers, where DeAngelo and Biyombo could grow in tandem to become a bizarro version of CP3 and Deandre, or the Mavericks, where he could benefit from a team full of floor spacers, an elite shooting coach, and a head coach who can fully utilize his skill-set.
It will be enticing to see if Raptors fans will be able to see any moments like this again:
Or, if Toronto’s father does go to the Large Contract store and never returns home, I personally hope that, wherever he goes, he continues to evolve and continues to borrow the Mutombo finger wag.