We’re continuing our 213Hoops Exit Interview series, where we go player-by-player through the Clippers’ roster and break down how each player on the team performed relative to their pre-season expectations, and ponder their future with the team. Today, we’re taking a look at Patrick Patterson
Weight: 235 lbs.
Years in NBA: 11
Key Stats: In 38 appearances, played 15.3 minutes per game and averaged 5.2 points and 2.0 rebounds on 43.6/35.7/76.5 shooting splits. Was the only member of the team’s 17-man roster to not appear in a playoff game.
Contract Status: Patterson’s 1-year, $3,077,701 contract from last off-season is expiring. The Clippers will have his early bird rights, allowing them to offer up to roughly $10.5M in starting salary–though Patterson is extremely unlikely to demand more than a minimum-salary deal.
The Patrick Patterson of 2020 was a serviceable second unit guy, just savvy enough as a veteran defender to minimize his negative impact on that end of the floor, and a legitimately good high-volume three-point shooter on the other end. While he wasn’t necessarily a positive for the Clippers in 2020 compared to their alternatives at the power forward position, he provided above-minimum value to the team while playing a reserve role on a minimum-salary contract. And when he was called upon to sponge up regular-season minutes, his three point shooting–39% at 10.5 attempts per 100 possesions, the second-best efficiency/volume combination on the team behind Paul George–was a useful spacing element of the offensive lineups he played in.
Coming into the 2021 season, it seemed fair to expect more of the same. It didn’t make a lot of sense to expect Patterson to improve at his weaknesses between his age 30 and 31 seasons, particularly because he was typically a high-IQ player on both ends of the floor who just lacked the mobility and diverse skillset to make a bigger contribution than “good positioning, slow feet, good shooting.” The Clippers gave PatPat a one-year above-minimum contract in the off-season, which wasn’t necessarily bad value if they expected him to replicate his 2020 performance. But it was definitely a bad use of their limited resources–without very much wiggle room underneath the hard cap, which was triggered by using the full Mid-Level Exception on Serge Ibaka, the Clippers could only afford two minimum deals for the 14th and 15th spots on their roster.
By giving Patterson an above-minimum salary, they blocked off the 15th roster spot for themselves for much of the season–a loss compounded by Mfiondu Kabengele and Daniel Oturu, two big men that the team had drafted in the last two seasons, lacking any ability to contribute even competent spot minutes from the third string. With rookie Jay Scrubb sidelined by injury for almost the entire season, the Clippers’ 17-man roster (including 2-way contracts) only featured 13 actual NBA players for the first half of the year. If the baseline expectation for PatPat was that he’d replicate his 800 minutes of below-average all-around play with redeeming three-point shooting, the opportunity cost of missing out on an extra depth player to retain him meant he needed to at least repeat those contributions, and probably do it in a larger sample of minutes.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, it wasn’t just the case that PatPat was unable to maintain his level of play in a slightly bigger role this year, it was actually the case that he was unable to replicate his 2020 level of play at all to begin with. Most significantly, Patterson’s three-point shooting dropped off to mere average levels, hitting 35.7% on 9.5 attempts per game. And on a team stocked with elite shooters, he went from the second best efficiency/volume combination on the team in 2020 to probably 8th-best in 2021. The skill he could bring to the table wasn’t in demant on this iteration of the Clippers. And for whatever reason, whether it be the lack of shooting to offset it, another year slowing him down further, or a significantly changed second unit style of play, his mobility drawbacks seemed even more glaring in the 2021 campaign.
In fact, PatPat actually looked better this season when he was playing center precisely because of those footspeed issues. Ultimately, just 241 of his 582 minutes this season came alongside either Ivica Zubac, Serge Ibaka, or DeMarcus Cousins–and 95 more came with one or both of Mfiondu Kabengele and Daniel Oturu, both of whom are probably closer to a center than PatPat but ultimately so bad that they’re rendered somewhat positionless. With those two guys only appearing in garbage time, that means Patterson played roughly 487 non-garbage minutes this year and only half came alongside a traditional center. His best run of play came after the All-Star break, after Ibaka went out of the lineup with the nerve injury that ultimately ended his season but before the team signed Cousins as an emergency third center. For a span of about 3 weeks, PatPat was the Clippers’ second-unit center, and while I wouldn’t say he was necessarily good in the role, I think he was a perfectly adequate fill-in who more or less did what was needed at a passable level to keep the wheels on (the most regular and glaring drawback was his lack of rim protection, though Nicolas Batum previewed his playoff role with some stellar help defense during this stretch).
Overall, Patterson’s 2021 level of play was both a clear step back from what he brought to the team in 2020, as well as a final verdict against the team’s decision to forego an additional depth piece in order to sign PatPat to an above-minimum deal last off-season. All of that said, Patterson wasn’t an atrocity this year–he was just a minimum-salary veteran who got overpaid and didn’t overperform in a year where the Clippers had a couple of guys on actual minimum deals play at 8-figure levels in Batum and Reggie Jackson. After playing slightly above his contract in 2020, Pat played slightly below his increased salary in 2021. He really did put up a classic vet min performance this year: just flawed and old enough to not really be good enough to be a serious rotation piece, yet just experienced and skilled enough to be a competent emergency option when compared to prospect players who might not be NBA-ready.
Future with Clippers
So, following from that, I think it is totally plausible and reasonable that the Clippers might keep Patterson around on a vet’s minimum contract for next season. In fact, they can pay him even more–with two years for LAC now under his belt, PatPat is eligible to make up to $10.5M in starting salary, same as Reggie Jackson. And unlike last season, when the Clippers were hard capped, there’s unlikely to be an opportunity cost to overpaying Patterson this offseason. Even if they don’t want to spring for the full 10M, even a moderate contract worth 4 or 5 million would give the Clippers another contract to use as filler at the trade deadline. As long as the Clippers stay over the apron and can’t consider a move that would trigger the hard cap anyway (incredibly likely to be the case if Kawhi Leonard stays with the team), the only downside of overpaying PatPat this year is extra money coming out of Ballmer’s pockets.
The Clippers could also take advantage of those early bird rights to sign-and-trade Patterson away this off-season. While it wouldn’t make sense for any team to execute a deal like that for Pat himself as a player, his contract could help move the math along of another deal, especially if the Clippers are looking to move expiring deals like Patrick Beverley’s and/or Rajon Rondo’s to bring a bigger salary back. Because of the Base Year Compensation rule, Patterson’s outgoing salary for trade math purposes if he receives more than a 20% raise is limited to the larger of his salary from last year or half of his new salary. That means a 20% raise would bring him to nearly $3.7M in filler, while going all the way to $10.5M would make him worth $5.25M outoing. I’m sure no trade partner would be thrilled to owe Patterson $10 million next season, but it’s theoretically possible if that extra 5M in salary matching would make possible a larger deal that both sides are sufficiently incentivized to make happen.
If the Clippers do look to keep Patterson instead of trading him, they’ll have to consider the roster spot ramifications of committing a guaranteed salary to a guy who seems likely to have no place in the 10-man rotation or any upside to grow into a rotation role in the future. That’s not a reason to get rid of him by itself–most playoff teams keep third-string veterans around. But it’s probably a reason to think that his fate is tied to some other decisions around the roster. As it stands, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Clippers to keep both Patterson and Cousins on guaranteed deals for next year. The organization has a longer relationship with Patterson and he has a close friendship with Paul George. But Cousins surpassed Patterson on Ty Lue’s depth chart after joining the team mid-season (though proved he still squarely belongs in the “emergency” category and not “rotation” category), and recieved his own share of praise from teammates and coaches about his presence in the locker room. I’d lean towards PatPat getting the nod, and the Clippers revisiting things with Cousins again mid-season in 2022 if they feel the need. But the need to make that choice could change if the Clippers lose Nic Batum and/or Serge Ibaka in free agency. While the team likely plans to use their taxpayer mid-level exception to attempt to re-sign Batum, his departure might cause the team to look for a player who can play small forward with that money in order to help fill the void left by Kawhi Leonard. In terms of roster spots, that means a little more space for a guy like PatPat at the 4. And if Serge Ibaka declines his player option and chooses to enter free agency and leave the team, the odds of Cousins being retained seemingly increase–although even with just the veteran’s minimum to spend, the Clippers should be able to find a more dependable backup center.
Whatever happens with PatPat, it should be down the agenda for the organization this summer and depend upon how things shake out at multipe other junctures. In particular, it would be a shame if the team is forced to choose between Amir Coffey and Patrick Patterson for the final roster spot and keep PatPat, as Amir is really the better and more promising player. But if both can be kept on minimum deals on the 15-man roster, I’m sure the Clippers would be happy to keep Patterson in the locker room for another campaign.
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