Patric Young came to Florida with loftier expectations than waiting out the second round of the NBA Draft to hear his name called. He was a projected lottery pick before he ever set foot on the O'Connell Center court, and remained a projected first-rounder even after a freshman season spent as a reserve.
But as his flaws were magnified and his development slowed, his stock slipped — and it didn't help that the Dwight Howard comparisons he used to get for being a bright, clean-cut big man with a winning personality were no longer valid, thanks to Howard morphing into something slightly different as a full-fledged NBA player.
Fortunately for Young, he turned himself around, with no small amount of help from the Florida basketball family, and now he's just hours from being an NBA player — and one with a better chance of sticking in the league than he would ever have had before this moment.
He knows that, too — and it might be his biggest strength.
Young began his career as a reserve for Florida's 2010-11 SEC championship team, and played in every game of that season, starting twice. But his flashes were few — 12 points and five boards against South Carolina here, eight points and four rebounds against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament there — and it was understood, even then, that he was biding his time behind a front line that included Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons, and Alex Tyus. There weren't enough minutes to go around, not with Macklin duplicating much of Young's game and adding the value of experience.
Beginning in 2011-12, Young was Florida's starter at center, and his production from that point on — essentially 10 points and six rebounds every night, on good shooting, with physical defense — remained consistent for his three years in that role. It never quite jumped up like it might have in a system designed to feed him the ball, and that felt partly like a reflection of Young's work ethic in his sophomore and junior years. But as a senior, Big Pat's drive and tenacity were close to unimpeachable, and his production at the offensive end hardly changed.
What did change was his production on defense, which went from superior to incredible, especially in one-on-one situations. Young was always hard to move on the block, but his understanding of defense, whether that meant knowing how to guard pick-and-rolls or decide whether to front in the post, caught up with his physical tools, and though Kentucky's Julius Randle and Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes gave him fits as a slightly smaller player, that wasn't exactly rare. Florida had the nation's No. 2 defense in points per possession allowed, and that was largely due to yeoman's work inside, where the Gators allowed opponents to make just 43.5 percent of their field goals, and under 60 percent of their buckets at the rim. Young wasn't alone in that effort, getting plenty of help from roommate and best friend Will Yeguete, but Yeguete was the slighter, quicker partner in the pairing, and struggled to get back up to speed after a knee injury at the end of the 2012-13 season; Young shouldered the load, almost always drew the tougher cover, and kept up his effort level throughout, something that he sometimes failed to do in previous years.
That hustle, once his weakness, became his calling card, and it was never more visible than on his spectacular flying rebound at Tennessee.
That rebound helped Florida secure a rare road win on Rocky Top, one of the hardest-won battles in an unbeaten SEC season, and it was emblematic of the Gators's incredible successes in 2013-14: Florida was not the nation's most talented team, and rarely its most beautiful one, but the Gators scrapped hard enough to be considered among the nation's best despite that. And Young was at the core of the effort.
Young and Scottie Wilbekin were the two leaders of this team, and took cues from each other and Billy Donovan well: Young was the fiery, emotional rock on the inside, and Wilbekin the swaggering, swashbuckling point guard on the perimeter. Young, who fed off (or shrunk from) the energy of crowds and his teammates early in his career, became the font for his teammates to draw from as a senior, and his effort never ebbed. That consistency, sometimes AWOL despite his consistent production in his first three years, is the residue of hard work that he can sell to NBA teams.
Young has a fair few other strengths, like surprising ups for a big man, a fine hook shot over his right shoulder developed into a go-to move over time, and feet fleet enough to recover on defense, but his best attribute boils down to wisdom. Knowing who and what he is as a player and teammate and what he has to do to have success in those roles served Young and Florida very well as a senior, and will serve him well as a pro.
Part of that wisdom, though, is knowing his limitations. And Patric Young has a few of those, too — they're what has left his stock less hot than it was four years ago.
He's not as tall or large as the fawning commentary about his body may have led some to believe. He measured in at 6'8.5" without shoes at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine, and while he's 6'10" in shoes, the NBA's full of players who are 6'10" while flat-footed, some of whom are as quick or quicker than Young is and burlier than he is, at his chiseled 250ish pounds. And his wingspan is surprisingly small for a big man expected to play center, which may be trouble against long-limbed players in the post.
And his offensive game is very limited, especially compared to other bigs. Young operated with his back to the basket more often than not at Florida, only rarely showing off his spotty shooting touch in face-up situations, and doesn't possess an exceptional array of moves off the dribble to free himself up. To score at the NBA level, at least at first, Young will likely either need other players to create post-up opportunities for him or need to create putback opportunities with offensive rebounding.
And though his rebounding is closer to a strength than a weakness, Young has never been more than merely a good rebounder; he was outdone on the boards by Bradley Beal in 2011-12 and by Dorian Finney-Smith in 2013-14, neither of whom is a frontcourt player, was always the lesser rebounder when compared to Yeguete, and only really started to add technique to his efforts on the boards late in his career.
If you're looking for reasons to be bearish on Young as a one-way player who will never become more than a decent option off the bench, all of those have been on display for years.
Verdict and Projection
That said, Young has proven himself capable of overcoming his weaknesses — even turning them to strengths — before, and he's a smart, polished defender who poses zero character risk, and would actually likely be a help in the locker room and on the court. While his first year or two might be a struggle, Young's work ethic and determination have been impressive over the last year, and convinced me that his upside is greater than his limitations, at least as a role player.
I expect Young to come off the board early in the second round, perhaps to the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, or New York Knicks, all teams that he's been linked to and worked out for, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him go in the final few picks of the first round.