In the preseason of 2015-2016, the power forward position was up for grabs after the departure of long-time Raptor Amir Johnson. The idea was that Patrick Patterson would slot into the starting lineup, spacing out the floor a bit more for drive-and-kick opportunities with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and allowing Jonas Valanciunas more space to operate in the low post. This plan would be shoved to the side when Patterson struggled in the preseason, and newly acquired veteran Luis Scola appeared to be an able candidate to fill in as a starter.
Patterson wouldn’t start in a single regular season game last season, but after a slow start Patterson would find more floor time, and his numbers would improve drastically as the year went on. Before the All-Star break, Patterson was averaging 24.4mpg, 6.3ppg and 4.2TRB on 39% shooting from the field and 34% from three, all numbers below Patterson’s averages in his previous seasons with the team. Scola would slow down a bit as the season progressed, too, and wouldn’t be able to defend in important late-game situations, so the Raptors only option was to play Patterson more.
He would step up on both ends of the floor, and he would play very important minutes down the final stretch of the season. He probably should have been starting. After the All-Star break, he averaged 27.7mpg, 8.1pts, and 4.5TRB on 44.5% shooting from the field and, most notably, 39% from three. This trend would continue into the postseason, and Patterson would start nine games in the playoffs, playing significant minutes due to his strong defensive presence guarding multiple positions and stronger forwards like LeBron James and Joe Johnson.
While Patterson’s ability to guard multiple positions on defense is a great asset, his offensive game and ability to stretch the floor also serve a major role for the Raptors. A majority of Patterson’s shots last year were above the break threes, which accounted for 174 of his 293 3-point attempts, Patterson shot 35.6% on those, which is roughly league average, while 59.4% of all of his shots were threes. While Patterson might not be the most elite shooting stretch four in the NBA, his 37% three point shooting on 2.9 attempts over a four-year sample is essential to their floor spacing. Players like Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joesph weren’t players who operated too far away from the rim, so having Patterson to kick the ball out to as the trailer helped get a lot of easy, wide-open shots. Patterson was efficient in this offensive system, and when Patterson was on the floor the Raptors were 6.2 points per-100 possessions better at the offensive end.
Entering training camp this season, the starting power forward position is not Patterson’s to lose, it’s his to win. With the offseason acquisition of free agent Jared Sullinger, who fits better than Scola next to Valanciunas on defense (the amount of rebounds that tandem is going to grab will be ridiculous), Patterson once again slots as the presumed sixth man. Sullinger also fits nicely into their offensive system, as someone who sets great screens, and his mid-range shot situates him nicely in the “Horns” offense the Raptors run a lot.
It looks as though Patterson will have to prove himself to be the starter. Both Sullinger and Patterson find themselves in contract years, and the fight for that starting spot won’t be an easy decision for head coach Dwayne Casey. As mentioned this week in the Media Day notes article that Blake Murphy wrote, Casey is leaning toward Sullinger early on:
“I’m not going to commit to it, but right now, today, I would say Jared Sullinger, it’s his to lose…I consider Pat the sixth starter for me, but for the balance of the minutes, balance of the first unit-second unit, I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind.”
Patterson still has a chance to move into the starting spot, and a hot start to the season on the offensive end might be the deciding factor that clinches this role. Also mentioned on media day was that Patterson doesn’t really have a preference as to what his role is on the team: Starter, reserve, whatever. Patterson wants to play a major role on this team, no matter where he’s situated on the depth chart, and he’d have solid value once again if he was playing the sixth man role for what should be a solid bench unit once again.
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