There are a few questions Raptors coach Dwayne Casey will need to make moving forward through the second half of the season. Casey will be faced with a decision at Power Forward which I do not think will be too easy for him (nor would I want to have to make it myself). Will Amir Johnson be healthy enough to start down the stretch, or does he come off the bench like he is now? Some fans may think I’m crazy for asking such a ludicrous question, but I do have plenty of intriguing arguments to back this up.
Patrick Patterson is playing his best basketball since the 2012-13 season (in which he started 38 of 47 games for the Houston Rockets with former teammate there, who was also the point guard on that team, Kyle Lowry). Patterson has been trying to find his game since the Rockets traded him (much like last year’s trade when the Raptors sent Ed Davis away as part of the Rudy Gay deal during the best stretch of Davis’ career) starting only 3 of the remaining 24 games for the Sacramento Kings that year. It would seem that being reunited with Kyle Lowry has really helped Patterson, who is shooting an impressive 50.6% from the field since joining the Raptors, while attempting 57 three pointers! That is not an easy number to reach shooting the three as often as that. Patterson is also averaging 44% from the three-point line as a Raptor, which is an exceptional number for a Power Forward. Patterson is playing the best basketball in the 4th year of his still young career. Playing with Jonas Valanciunas, I would argue Patterson is a better complement to Johnson, as Patterson is primarily around the perimeter setting screens, or looking for his shot, whereas Johnson prefers to roll to the bucket after a screen or play in the post. This makes life harder for Valanciunas as it is easier to send another defender to him quickly.
I don’t want you to think I am not an Amir Johnson supporter in all of this. When the Raptors first got Amir Johnson and he was an unknown commodity, I was vehemently attempting to prove his worth to the doubters. I told my best friend who was skeptical about Johnson that I thought he played like a young Kevin Garnett. Was I stretching the truth a little, well yes I was; Johnson has blossomed into a very good role player in the NBA. Johnson has even been an adequate starter (far better than Andrea Bargnani for that matter), and a impact player for the Raptors franchise. However I believe, at this point in his career, he would serve the Raptors better coming off the bench to give JV a blow or take over the Centre spot when JV runs into early foul trouble. Another reason I would move Johnson to the bench is, despite his great durability in terms of games missed as a Raptor, his health seems to always be a cause for concern.
I know that I said I would not want to make this decision earlier, but I do believe starting Patterson is the best decision for the Raptors going forward. Giving Johnson a chance to come off the bench and not abuse his body might be better both for the Raptors and Amir Johnson alike.