Patterson is Raptors' insider on Wizards' Wall
Patrick Patterson works on his shot at practice yesterday. Below, he and John Wall were teammates at Kentucky in 2010. (Craig Robertson/ Toronto Sun)
The Raptors employ a secret weapon in their quest to put the clamps on John Wall.
With Kyle Lowry still rounding into form, Wall is the best player on either side in Toronto’s playoff opening series against Washington.
Wall, who placed second in the NBA in assists the past two seasons and might be the league’s fastest player, is extremely difficult to stop, but Raptors forward Patrick Patterson says he has already provided his teammates some tips.
Patterson is able to do that because he spent every day with Wall for nearly a year when they were teammates at the University of Kentucky for the 2009-10 season, both being named All-Americans (Patterson was the SEC’s player of the year, Wall the national player of the year). That highly touted team went an NCAA-best 35-3 before being upset by West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
Patterson teamed with Wall every day in practice, saw all of his strengths, and his weaknesses.
While it was clear that both stars were heading to the NBA, Patterson said he never pictured taking on his buddy in the post-season.
“It’s always cool to go against my brother in Big Blue Nation and the opportunity to go against John, someone that I’ve always admired and appreciated and cherished our friendship ... it’s going to be a great challenge, but most importantly, it’s just going to be fun,” Patterson said on Friday, about 24 hours before tipoff.
“I never thought about the day, that that day would ever come that we’d face each other in the playoffs. Not once did I ever imagine us playing face-to-face in the playoffs, trying to get to the next round.”
Patterson declined to specify what he had shared with his teammates, but in general, said, “just speed. Just watch out for his speed. That’s pretty much it.”
Which is all well and good to say. Actually keeping Wall from becoming a blur is far more challenging than just willing it to be so.
“Just try to stop him in transition and make him play half-court basketball which is very difficult to do, but that’s what you game-plan for,” said Kyle Lowry of the challenge.
“Find a way to take away from his defensive pressure, there’s a few things you can do, that’s why there’s a gameplan.”
And it will be a varied one at that, according to head coach Dwane Casey, who threw the kitchen sink at LeBron James and the Miami Heat back in 2011 as the lead defensive assistant in Dallas.
Wall and LeBron are both freak athletes with ridiculous speed who almost always have the ball in their hands and Casey indicated he would take some things from the playbook that helped the Mavericks solve James and win the championship.
“There’s nothing new under the sun. I’m serious when I say that. Any coverage, any scheme that you see that’s been used before in the NBA,” Casey said.
“Whether it’s zone, traps, box and one, whatever it is, it’s been done before. We’ll probably try a little bit of everything before it’s over to try to take them from what they’re trying to do.”
While Wall was always an elite player, containing him today is far more difficult than it was earlier in his NBA career, or back when he was at Lexington.
Patterson said he has seen massive improvement.
“You can tell just from watching him game in and game out. His confidence, his jump shot, his speed, his quickness, his strength. His basketball IQ has just changed tremendously since he first left Kentucky,” Patterson said.
While Washington has other star talent, Wall is the fulcrum, the piece that makes it all work.
Just like it was back at Kentucky, when Patterson, future superstar DeMarcus Cousins and standout Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe surrounded him.
Only this time, Patterson will be trying to stop Wall, instead of benefiting from his creativity.
TOUGH TO CONTAIN NENE AND GORTAT
The focus in this series is where it should be — on the star-laden backcourts of both teams — but don’t forget that the big men are not chopped liver either.
Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Nene have been near all-star level players in past seasons and Paul Pierce, now an undersized power forward instead of the wing menace he once was, is a 10-time all-star and former Finals MVP.
Gortat struggled in three losses to Toronto this season, averaging just 6.3 points and 6.7 rebounds, but has fared well against them in the past and comes in hot, averaging 14.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 60% shooting in his final 10 regular-season games.
“Tough. Strong, powerful,” was how Toronto’s Patrick Patterson described Washington’s big men.
“It’s always a great challenge, but always a great competition. Those guys are extremely tough and tall and furious inside the paint and they are always a tough matchup, especially guys who are taller than me. But it’s just a challenge I always look forward to stepping up to and hopefully seizing that moment.”
In addition to Patterson, one of the NBA’s premier reserve forwards, the Raptors counter with Jonas Valanciunas, who finished second in the NBA in field goal percentage and averaged seven points and five rebounds against Washington in just 20 minutes a game and the solid Amir Johnson and energetic Tyler Hansbrough who counters ex-Raptor rebounding machine Kris Humphries.