Philadelphia 76ers: It’s time to give Justin Patton a serious look

(Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images) /

After getting thoroughly throttled by the Portland Trail Blazers on a Saturday matinée at the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia 76ers need to give Justin Patton a serious look at center.

In the hours following their 106-102 win over the Miami Heat in their first of four potential games without Joel Embiid under center, I hypothesized that the Philadelphia 76ers had the best one-two center punch in the entire league.

My rationale was sound; Embiid is the best center in the league, so by pairing him with an uber-effective, though schematically limited foil like Boban Marjanovic, the 76ers appeared set for the final stretch of the regular season.

Makes sense right?

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However, I, unfortunately, didn’t account for the position grouping as a whole, and that’s on me.

Do the Sixers have the best one-two punch in the league? I still believe so, but behind them, it gets ugly real quick.

Case and point; the Sixers’ 130-115 blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

In a game that felt like 10 am to the West Coast-based Blazers, Dame Lillard and company thoroughly bullied the 76ers in the paint with ease, in large part due to their own recently facelifted center tandem of Jusuf Nurkic and ex-New York Knick Enes Kanter.

No matter how Brett Brown attempted to neutralize Portland’s post presence(s), it was futile.

Whether deploying Marjanovic, Jonah Bolden, Mike Scott, Amir Johnson, or even Ben Simmons at the (switch-heavy) five-spot, it didn’t matter: Kanter and Nurkic combined for 40 points and 18 rebounds while combining for a +20 Real Plus-Minus on the afternoon.


Though this was only one game, the second of four without Embiid, if Philly is going to remain competitive in-game where JoJo is limited, or god forbid out all together, the team has to settle on a third-string center who can at least hold his own for a few minutes at a time in the ‘Boban’-role.

That player very well may already be on the roster: Justin Patton.

The all but forgotten piece of the Jimmy Butler trade, Patton came to the City of Brotherly Love with a right foot injury that had sidelined him since September of 2018, and appeared to be included in the deal for no other reason than to free up a roster spot to accommodate Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Jerryd Bayless‘ additions to the Minnesota Timberwolves roster.

That’s a fair assumption.

With only one regular season game and two points to his name over the previous two seasons, the Wolves had so little confidence in the former first-round pick’s potential in the NBA that they opted against picking up Patton’s third year option, a move that makes the 21-year-old an unrestricted free agent when the season ends.

If Patton is going to earn a new contract to remain in the NBA moving forward, he’s going to have to prove his worth fast. Fortunately for Patton, the Sixers’ next two games could be a perfect opportunity to make that happen.

After logging 50 straight DNPs to start out the season, Patton finally made his return to basketball with the Delaware Blue Coates, and so far so good. In seven games of action, Patton has played an average of 18.1 minutes a night, stuffing the stat sheet with an average of 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks a night.

Now granted, G-League stats don’t directly translate to NBA numbers, as Haywood Highsmith has been lighting it up with the Coats on a two-way deal and has only earned nine minutes of action in the NBA, but still, after missing 18 months of basketball, seeing Patton thrive against live bodies should be encouraging.

Why not give him a chance to test his mettle at the game’s highest level?

With Bolden lacking the size to be a reliable center with regularity, and Johnson’s lack of athleticism making him a less than ideal spot up defender, Patton is the 76ers’ best bet physically to shore up the paint for short four-minute stretches.

Patton can even shoot a little bit, hitting 53 percent of his 15 3-point attempts in his lone season at Creighton, while scoring an average of 20.5 points a game. If Patton can recapture that offensive prowess in the NBA, it could go a long way to masking Embiid’s absence and allowing Brown’s offense to maintain its typical spacing with a stretch center on the court.

And really, if it doesn’t work, oh well.

At this point, barring a surprising turnaround, it appears a long shot that Patton will remain a 76er longterm, especially if he can’t see the court with any regularity. While he still certainly has the potential that made him a borderline lottery pick in 2017, the Sixers are built to win now, and can’t conscionably waste a roster spot on a player who can’t be counted on as a reserve with regularity.

Next. Boban Marjanovic is already a Philly folk legend. dark

No, if Justin Patton wants to remain in the City of Brotherly Love or the NBA for that matter, he’s going to need to prove that he can still play at a high level and fill a valuable role as a reserve center on a contender. If afforded the opportunity, these next two games could serve as a perfect audition for the Philadelphia 76ers to see what he can do when live bullets are flying.