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Why Lamar Patterson and Ryan Kelly make sense for the Hawks Roster

NBA: New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It was announced shortly after the trade deadline that Lamar Patterson and Ryan Kelly were signed to contracts that will be effective until at least the end of this season, barring any unexpected injuries or transactions. Some fans reacted immediately by voicing disappointment that the Hawks did not roll the dice on a player the team has not yet experimented with in hopes of potentially finding an unexpected talent in the way that the Dallas Mavericks did with Yogi Ferrell. By the way, Yogi Ferrell hasn’t even logged 500 minutes in the league yet, so I personally think we should not be making that big of a deal out of him yet.

Both Patterson and Kelly have experience with the Hawks. And for that reason some fans find the moves boring and unimaginative. But there are reasons beyond the simple explanation of their experience in the Hawks system that make both a fit for the roster that has been put together for the stretch run of this NBA season and post-season.

Lamar Patterson is well known to Hawks fans as a combo guard with good size, above average passing skills and just enough offensive creation ability to handle spot opportunities at the point guard position. Prior to last season’s draft (before the voice of other folk brought me around to hope the Hawks would draft DeAndre’ Bembry) I saw Patterson and Bembry skill sets as being too redundant. I would eventually come to see how much more upside Bembry had than Patterson.

It is my view that the primary reason that Patterson has been secured for the remainder of the season is the profile of Hawks backup point guard, Malcolm Delaney. The “veteran-rookie” Delaney has shown flashes at times this year and should remain the primary reserve to starter Dennis Schroeder for the remainder of this season unless his play unexpectedly craters. However, especially in the playoffs but even for the remainder of the regular season the Hawks will at times find themselves in match ups in which Delaney’s lack of size will create an issue. You may recall for example the Hawks two match ups against Oklahoma City earlier in the season. Both games were competitive but Delaney’s minutes were limited below his season average in both contests because he could just not handle the size and physicality of Russell Westbrook.

In the latter of the two games, the one the Hawks won, Dennis Schroeder logged 40 minutes, an incredibly heavy workload for the demand on him in this match up on both ends of the court. Consider, for example if the Hawks get matched up with the Washington Wizards in the playoffs. It might be a reality in which Delaney will just not be able to be on the court when John Wall is on the floor. My suggestion in this scenario is not that Patterson would just get all of Delaney’s minutes; rather that as the opposing coaches try to manipulate the rotations to get an edge, I can foresee a situation in which Schroder might need even a brief 3-4 minute rest to remain effective for the final stretch of the game without having an opportunity to do so while Wall is on the bench. In this case Coach Budenholzer might opt to deploy Patterson and his 6’5 225 pound frame in an effort to contain Wall for the brief stretch. Similarly, Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is not a big guy but he loves to play very physically against smaller, less experienced opponents. And when he does he can get to the free throw line repeatedly for easy points.

As the season progresses and as post-season match ups start to become clear look for the brief stretches in which Lamar Patterson might get the call when the Hawks are up against a team with a big, physical play maker.

I would expect that Ryan Kelly will be inactive for a large majority of the remaining games this season. But he will play reserve to Ersan Ilyasova, who the Hawks acquired at the trade deadline, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (also acquired via a trade this season). Ilyasova is 29 years old (reportedly) and has a bit of a checkered injury history. Dunleavy is 36 years old and had to make a tough decision prior to the start of this season as to whether or not he could commit to playing due to serious back issues that requires a significant amount of maintenance for him to be reliably available.

With the Hawks having moved on from Mike Scott at the trade deadline should either of the veteran power forwards miss time the Hawks could need Kelly for brief stretches when a member of the rotation needs a brief rest. In these events some fans might hope that rookie Taurean Prince gets the nod, but Prince has not yet demonstrated that he can handle the full set of responsibilities to play at the power forward position. In these potential scenarios in which a brief break is needed, Coach Budenholzer could turn to Kelly.

Why? Firstly, he knows that with Kelly on the floor offensively that the ball is not going to get stuck because of him. Kelly has a high basketball IQ and knows how to play the game. In these scenarios he will likely always be the fifth option on offense but he knows how to move the basketball.

Next, Kelly knows how to play alongside a center on the defensive end of the court. He does not have the size or athleticism to play with force on that end of the court, but again he knows what he is doing. For example if Kelly gets matched up with a legitimate center for example in a quick transition to the defensive end of the floor he knows how to operate with just enough technique to offer some resistance. He also knows when to take a foul in that situation (and when not to take the foul) and how to take the foul soon enough to avoid an “and one” situation. These individual possessions can have enormous value in close games, especially so in the post-season.

Regardless of how one feels about the how the Hawks handled the trade deadline and despite a natural desire to do anything to try to increase the overall upside profile of this roster, it’s clear that Hawks decision makers have prioritized what is left of this season. And in doing so, I think it is clear that Patterson and Kelly have specific situational value filling the 14th and 15th spots on this roster.