Toronto Raptors: The curious case of starting Patrick Patterson

The Toronto Raptors, after receiving an offseason facelift, boast an elite defence and an offence that looks to thrive off of ball movement.

So far throughout preseason, three players have stood out to me in particular. First, Kyle Lowry, who seems to be on a mission to receive acknowledgement as an All-Star point guard for the second year in the row. He genuinely looks to be like an elite player who’s been putting in necessary work all offseason. Lowry has been getting to the basket and finishing seemingly at will, as well as displaying a sweet shooting stroke from deep. He is having an easier time keeping up with the quicker point guards who saturate the NBA today. And, Lowry is moving the ball and putting forth an effort to constantly find his teammates in a good position to score. In general, Lowry is showcasing his talent as a well-rounded point guard.

Second, Cory Joseph in on fire. He is lightning-quick and his ball handling is looking crisp. Although one of the better ball handlers on the floor, Joseph doesn’t senselessly pound the air out of the ball. He’s very decisive with his moves, seemingly able to mentally stay one step ahead of opposing defences. Joseph is also a great finisher once he gets to the rim and has displayed an ability to hit the deep ball.

Finally, Luis Scola has continued his pace from international play. At 35, Scola displays the type of in-game savvy indicative of a player with a high basketball IQ. Scola isn’t just a smart basketball player however, because he is also a skilled scorer and a rabid rebounder for the amount of minutes a night he plays. With head coach Dwane Casey being a man who like his bigs to be the quarterbacks of the defence, Scola will likely thrive with the Raptors.

Patrick Patterson, one of the most offensively talented players on the team, has barely put up a shot at all throughout preseason, let alone take 3-pointers. In addition, Patterson has been exceptionally absent on the boards, allowing the Raptors to get frequently out-rebounded. It looks as though Patterson is being underutilize, and for his and the team’s benefit, I think he is best suited coming off the bench. This would give the Raptors a bench that could build their lead while the starters sit, not just hold the lead. This would also give Patterson more chances to find his own offensive groove in the rotation like teammate Terrence Ross.

But if Patterson is on the bench, who should start in his position?

The team’s two other power forwards aren’t without their cons. Luis Scola, though an underrated defender, would be paired with Jonas Valanciunas, and likely the duo would get taken advantage of by smaller and quicker lineups. Anthony Bennett, though blessed with the physical gifts to make him an effective defender and rebounder, hasn’t proven anything at the NBA level.

The team’s small forwards that could start if DeMarre Carroll played power forward instead of small forward are James Johnson and Bruno Caboclo. Johnson, though intrinsically valuable in the rotation because of his grittiness and ball handling ability, is as close to being a non-shooter as you can get. Caboclo is simply too inexperienced for that type of significance within the rotation. A team with championship aspirations isn’t likely to rely on a youngster still learning the nuances of the professional game.

The benefit of starting two point guards is that it allows you to run the pick and roll from either side of the floor. Theoretically. It also gives you another playmaker and allows the team to play faster. However, there are defensive concerns regarding starting two short players. Fortunately for the Raptors, they do have taller point guards and a rookie point guard who needs to see playing time in order to develop. The question is whether the team would be better off with Delon Wright or Joseph? Wright, for all of his passing skill, would condense the floor as he’s not a terrific perimeter player. Joseph would be the more feasible option, however, his scoring ability is what makes him attractive and being in a starting lineup with three go-to scorers would greatly reduce his chances.

In order to maximize the Toronto Raptors’ capabilities as a team, they must alter their rotation. They’re getting out-rebounded and the 3-point shot is a weakness, not because of their lack of conversion but because of the underutilization of arguably their best 3-point threat in Patterson. The player who replaces Patterson must not make the team weaker where they’re strong, but instead strong where they’re weak. The following depth chart reflects this assertion:

Kyle Lowry | Cory Joseph | Delon Wright

DeMar Derozan | Terrence Ross | Norman Powell

DeMarre Carroll | Patrick Patterson | Bruno Caboclo

Anthony Bennett | Luis Scola | James Johnson

Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Lucas Noguiera

It’s okay if Bennett goes 0-0 with 12 rebounds, because he’s not looked to as a scorer. Patterson, on the other hand, must score to be relevant, but he won’t end up with double digit rebounds most of the time. Bennett is able to guard small forwards, power forwards, and even the occasional center.

This depth chart shows the Raptors’ outstanding depth and allows the team to have four potent scorers on the bench, as well as a potential defensive leader in Bismack Biyombo. My proposed depth chart would balance the team: the rebounding and defence of Bennett is superior to that of Patterson’s, while offensively Bennett is capable of stretching the floor though not as proficiently or efficiently as Patterson. This depth chart enhances their rotation is reflective of an elite team.