Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson and the Power Forward Problem

Feb 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Raptors defeated the Suns 104-97. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Raptors defeated the Suns 104-97. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s time Patrick Patterson made an appearance as the regular starting power forward for the Toronto Raptors.

It’s officially the offseason for the Toronto Raptors, which means analyzing what happened during the regular season and playoffs, while looking at ways to improve in the short and long-term. The roster gets a hard look, as does the staff .

A big decision needs to be made concerning DeMar DeRozan and his future, but the power forward position has really been the Raptors Achilles heel this season. Luis Scola was the starting power forward for the majority of the regular season, but it wasn’t necessarily a positive for the team.

Honestly, Scola can’t run or jump — he’s the Andre Miller of power forwards, i.e. ground bound. His repertoire this season consisted of uncontested threes, somewhat fluid post ups and drawing charges.

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In the regular season, Scola was able to put up 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds 0.9 assists, all while shooting 40 percent from three, even though he only attempted two per game in an average of 21.7 minutes. For the regular season those numbers are okay for Scola, as the fifth option in a starting lineup of players that aren’t necessarily considered floor generals.

Scola started all 76 games he played for the Raptors this season, but Patrick Patterson, the backup power forward, played more minutes (25.6). In fact, during fourth quarters Dwane Casey went to Patterson every time the game was in the balance.

Throughout the first few weeks of the regular season, Scola was playing well enough to confine Patterson to the bench and the Raptors took off. On the surface it seemed like he was an applicable fit for the starting lineup, while his teammate would be able to provide a powerful sixth man role.

The issue is when the playoffs roll around, when teams elevate their level of intensity on defense and offensive schemes become much more targeted. The best teams in the league have players at every position that can do multiple things.

As Scola has aged he’s lost more and more dimensions in his game to reduce him to what he is now, which is no longer suitable for this Raptors team. In the first round of the playoffs he played horribly, as the length and mobility of the Pacers’ bigs gave him fits and he contributed almost nothing to the team.

Throughout the entirety of the playoffs, Scola’s much lauded defense deteriorated to the point where he was giving up 110 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. He posted a minuscule line of 2.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.6 assists, while shooting 19 percent from the three-point line, in a paltry 12.7 minutes per game during the Raptors entire postseason run.

Toronto Raptors
May 23, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey stands with Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) and Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) during the national anthems prior to the start of game four of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 105-99. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Scola is simply a non-factor on a team that is going to be playoff bound for the foreseeable future. He is a great character guy, he’s laid back and can be seen joking around with players on the bench, but the Raptors need to move on from him having significant minutes on this team.

At this point in time Scola is 36 and he’s still got some game in him, but I don’t think it’s enough at the NBA level to make him viable. I would love to see him as a 15th man on a roster just as a culture corner-stone, but the Raptors are due for a replacement.

Now, It’s high time Patterson became the team’s starting power forward. He was going to start when Amir Johnson left, but talked himself out of the role when so many new players had joined the team.

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Scola was inserted into the starting lineup and the team chemistry rose. At the time its seemed as a great idea to keep Scola in the starting five, but now we’re all a year wiser.

Patterson is a rangy defender with a smooth, confident three-point stroke. He can do a little off the dribble and has enough athleticism to make it out on the break either way.

Patterson is able to switch on to threes and fives and hold his own against all fours not named Blake Griffin. Really he’s an ideal stretch four that every elite team in the NBA now has, but he has enough other skills to make him diverse.

We got a glimpse of what Patterson would look like in the starting lineup in the playoffs this year, spacing the floor and making opponents pay when they closed out too hard on him. He’s a Spursian-type player, meaning that when he catches the ball he is smart enough to make the decision to dribble, pass or shoot and the ball never sticks to hands.

During the postseason, Patterson posted a line of 7.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1 assist, while shooting 30 percent from the three-point line. Not Klay Thompson-like three-point shooting, but with the entire Toronto roster shooting poorly from distance, he was one of the few bright spots.

Patterson also posted these stats on extended minutes (29.2), in a position he wasn’t familiar with the entire season. You could tell he was getting tired by the end of the Cavaliers series and it’s hard to blame him for this.

When you go from coming off the bench to starting, you have to get used to guarding different players and the amount of energy expended is increased. It also takes a lot of energy to shoot the ball from distance.

Combined with the enhanced defensive assignments, it can lead to the lower shooting percentage evident through Patterson’s performance. Shots tend to come from different places in the starting lineup versus the bench and there are times where chemistry can become an issue.

With summer coming up, Patterson is afforded the time to get into better condition for a starting role. Patterson is 27, so his athleticism shouldn’t drop off and if it does it won’t be noticeable.

Shooting ages like fine wine and with the starters dragging more attention away from Patterson than the bench would, it isn’t hard to imagine his three-point shooting climbing from the 36 percent he displayed in the regular season. His style fits perfectly with the rest of the starting lineup, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan’s (if he stays) slashing sucks in the defense, which should lead to wide open looks.

Jonas Valanciunas will finally get the breathing room he needs on the block and if the defense ever doubles, it should be an open look or a pump fake drive for Patterson.  All that while Casey still gets a more mobile and long defender he can trust on switches.

Next: The Case for Dwane Casey

The cap is set to explode this offseason and should leave the Raptors with $16.9 million in cap space, but with Masai Ujiri set on re-signing DeRozan, he’s likely to command the max (or close to it). If the Raptors do re-sign DeRozan they will need to make improvements to their roster. The power forward position has been a question mark for a while now, but Patterson seems poised to be the answer.