Like Patrick Patterson's shooting touch, it all seems to be falling into place for the Toronto Raptors.
And if you're looking for people to blame for this accidental turnaround, where better to start than with a guy who has gone from being an unknown commodity to irreplaceable in the span of, oh, 16 games.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey knew Patterson could shoot at the University of Kentucky, and managed to carry over a zest for the three-pointer when the Houston Rockets made him the 14th pick in the 2010 draft. He also knew that had disappeared in the early part of this NBA season, when Patterson was with the Sacramento Kings.
Casey freely admits he didn't know about Patterson's energy level, his basketball IQ and the fact he is willing to guard anybody at any position. "The other facets of his game are growing on us," the coach said after last Monday's 116-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Patterson is the surprise package within the surprise package that is the 2013-14 Raptors, who, at 19-17, are two games over .500 for the first time since March 9, 2010, and are 13-3 against opponents with records below .500 – a significant figure given their next four opponents (Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers and Charlotte Bobcats) are sub-.500 teams.
Last Monday's win marked the eighth time in nine games the Raptors have held an opponent to less than 100 points and a .450 field-goal percentage. The Raptors once again hit their magic numbers against the Bucks: Twelve three-pointers (they are 10-2 when they make 10 or more from beyond the arc) and 26 assists, the latter figure comfortably above Casey's goal for each game.
Wednesday's road game against the Celtics will be an acid test (just as Tuesday's NHL game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden was for the Toronto Maple Leafs) as the Raptors have lost 10 consecutive games in Boston by an average of 16 points.
The Raptors' offensive efficiency figured to pick up with the trade of Rudy Gay to Sacramento, since he is a high-volume shooter. Far too often, the ball stopped with him. But that's no surprise, really: Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri made clear when the trade was finalized last December he believed the likes of DeMar DeRozan and big man Jonas Valanciunas in particular would find themselves unfettered due to increased ball movement.
As for the players who joined the Raptors? Patterson, John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez and Chuck Hayes were a combination of cost-effective, easily-jettisoned bench players – with the exception of guard Vasquez, who was expected to deliver some of the positives of Jose Calderon while giving the Raptors a pathway to tanking for a high draft pick, expediting the ultimate departure of free-agent-to-be Kyle Lowry.
Patterson had 18 points and four rebounds off the bench last Monday in 25 minutes. It was the fifth time in six games he'd hit double figures, shooting .554 over that stretch, and it was the eighth time he'd led the bench in scoring. He and Salmons, the 34-year-old, 11-year veteran, have combined to shoot .460 from the floor, and Salmons has shown an ability to distribute the ball that has freed up Lowry to shoot whenever Casey uses his rotation.
The coach has drawn up plays for Patterson – the Raptors' sixth man – and Casey has already said publicly Tyler Hansbrough, who has missed six games with a sprained ankle, will need to win back his minutes.
While a lot of us were visualizing lottery draft pick Andrew Wiggins in a Raptors jersey, Ujiri seems to have quietly gone out and put together the type of bench that can offer a respite for DeRozan down the stretch (he logs the third-highest number of minutes per game in the NBA) and give Valanciunas time to cool his jets on those nights when a young, seven-footer attracts unwanted (and unwarranted) attention from officials.
It might be his neatest trick, yet.
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