Growing up quick: Big spurt turns Patton into 1st-rounder

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Patton almost grew too fast for his own good.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round draft pick sprouted from a 6-foot-1 point guard as a freshman in high school to a 7-foot center by the time he first stepped foot on campus at Creighton in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Bluejays coach Greg McDermott had to slow things down for Patton.

“I had to learn how to do simple things all over again, like run, seal and use my body in ways I should, being 7-feet tall,” Patton said as he was introduced Tuesday by his new team.

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The Timberwolves believe his growth as a player has only just begun.

In the era of one-and-done in college basketball, Patton was a rare exception. He redshirted his freshman year at Creighton to spend it acclimating to his new body, and his new position as a “five” — the number given to centers.

“I never played the five position before,” Patton said. “I went all the way from point guard to center and coach Mac wanted me to learn how to be a back-to-the-basket five also. It was pretty fun to learn all the nuances of that and learn how to be a five.”

After a year of seasoning, Patton averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 25.5 minutes per game for Creighton. Unheralded as a recruit coming out of high school, the production, efficiency and athleticism that he showed even as a raw redshirt freshman jumped out immediately to Wolves GM Scott Layden.

“It’s unusual for a guy his size to make the type of plays that he does,” Wolves coach president Tom Thibodeau said.

Patton attributes that feel for the game to all the time he spent playing point guard in his formative days. His ability to see the floor and find the open man only got better when a growth spurt allowed him to see over the top of the defense, a combination that could eventually make him the ideal fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns — the prototype for the modern NBA big man — in the Wolves frontcourt.

“Just growing up being a guard, you develop all the things you need to know just practicing,” Patton said. “You got that mind of a point guard. It just so happens I grew to be 7 feet tall and I can still use those skills I had back then. It’s just adding everything back together.”

The Wolves chose Patton 16th overall, a pick acquired in the blockbuster trade with Chicago that also sent All-Star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for Patton, who sold funnel cakes and nachos at the College World Series the summer before enrolling at Creighton. His high school friends would give him grief for wearing shorts all the time in chilly Omaha, but it was “the only thing I could do. I couldn’t really fit into pants.”

The Timberwolves believe Patton is not done growing yet — at least when it comes to his game. There remains a possibility that Patton could spend some time this season with the Iowa Wolves — the team’s new G-League affiliate that was purchased this spring — while he adds strength and gets accustomed to the pro game.

“The exciting thing for me is what happens to Justin now,” Layden said. “His graduate school and his education start now as far as the NBA’s concerned. We have an outstanding coaching staff and an outstanding developmental group that are going to help him achieve the goals he wants to obtain. This is a great time in his life to get better and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”