Only two rookies have started every one of their team’s games so far this season. Those two rookies? Domantas Sabonis and Pascal Siakam. Along with starting every game for Toronto, Siakam has helped contribute to a 9-6 record despite Toronto playing the second toughest schedule to date in the league, and he earned a shout-out in the most recent Rookie Ladder from NBA.com.
Here’s the problem though: only one of Sabonis and Siakam was expected to have a starting role this season, while the other was forced into the role unexpectedly after an injury ahead of them in the rotation.
Yes, it’s awesome to see Siakam make the most of his minutes and this stretch of games will certainly help in his long term development. He has far exceeded what could reasonably have been expected, but it’s also another reminder of the Raptors seemingly never-ending battle to find themselves a starting Power Forward.
It feels almost like déjà vu. The Raptors have a strong team up-and-down the roster, but are primarily lacking at that one spot. And the search has taken them to some interesting places…
Jared Sullinger Pascal Siakam
2015-16: Luis Scola
2014-15: Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough
2013-14: Amir Johnson
I love Amir as much as the next guy, but that’s not exactly a murderer’s row of power forwards considering it’s one of the deepest positions in the league.
Amir was a steady soldier, and it often hurt the eyes to watch him run through his many bumps, bruises, and injuries, but the hunt for a power forward has been a persistent need since the departure of Chris Bosh in 2010.
And yet, Patrick Patterson has been a consistent presence on the roster since December 2013. We’re three years into Patterson as a Raptor and he has started exactly 20 games for Toronto. Nine of these starts came in last season’s playoffs, leaving only 11 regular season starts since his arrival.
In fact, Patterson hasn’t started a regular season game for the Raptors since February 27, 2015. That’s 637 days since his last crack at joining a regular season starting line-up.
Amir, Tyler, Luis, and Pascal have all gotten their chance before Patterson. The simple answer for this is the Raptors like his production off the bench, and that’s likely it. I don’t know if there is a more complicated answer to this mystery.
What I do know is that Patterson goes a long way to providing the Raptors with both their ceiling and their floor. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the engine that drives the Raptors, but as currently constructed it is a player like Patterson who can help determine how far they go.
Toronto currently has a net rating of +6.6 when Patterson is on the floor, good for fifth highest on the team behind only Lucas Nogueira (+17.9), Norman Powell (+7.6), Terrence Ross (+7.6), and Lowry (+7.4). Lowry is the only high minutes player with a higher on court net rating for the Raptors.
Meanwhile, the Raptors are barely a positive team when Patterson goes to the bench, with a net rating of +0.8. Only Nogueira (+0.4) and Lowry (-6.7) beat him in this regard.
Patterson has followed in the footsteps of Amir Johnson by regularly being near the top of the team in plus/minus each game. The impact is incredible for someone whose statlines usually do not jump off the page.
What Patterson contributes is tough to quantify within a team’s boxscore. He’s not a dominant scorer or rebounder. He is an intelligent, but not overly gifted passer. He doesn’t a lot of blocks or steals. And he isn’t an explosive athlete who will regularly stand out on Sports Centre.
He is just a solid basketball player who generally knows his role. Just look at the video in this Tweet.
Great help from Patterson the entire possession. pic.twitter.com/O0pWhFtJGX
— Ryan (@ry_nguyen) November 24, 2016
Such intelligent coverage and helped prevent two scoring opportunities on the same possession.
For a team that is starved for shooting though, Patterson does take a lot of three point shots. Toronto is near the bottom of the league (sixth worse) in three point attempts per game, at an awful 22.9. Patterson is second on the team in attempts at 4.4 per game. This seems shocking considering the number of wide open looks he regularly passes up.
Toronto needs Patterson’s shooting to help open up the floor for attacking guards like DeRozan. The problem is that Patterson is currently not doing this well. Yes, there mere threat of Patterson shooting is a benefit to the Raptors’ spacing issues, but they can’t continue to live through Patterson shooting just 27.3 percent from deep.
And that’s how Patterson helps to raise the team’s ceiling. If he can simply hit a healthy number of his open three pointers, the Raptors will become even more dangerous on offence than they are right now (currently 4th in points per 100 possessions).
Roughly 60 percent of Patterson’s shot attempts this season have been considered to be catch-and-shoot three pointers by NBA.com. On these shots he is shooting a terrible 25.8 percent.
Last season Patterson shot 36 percent on his catch-and-shoot three pointers, which is a substantial improvement to say the least.
The good news is that Patterson struggled to start last season as well. Through 15 games he was shooting 31.5 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. This is still an improvement upon his current 25.8 percent this season, but well below where he would end the year.
Look at his monthly breakdown from last season (note: 3PA on the chart indicates his three point attempts on catch-and-shoot. That was just too wordy to fit into a graph.):
Outside of a poor end in a shortened month of April (and a less than excellent playoffs in this regard), Patterson provided some excellent shooting for Toronto. From the beginning of January through to the end of March 2015, Patterson shot 42.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. If he can even approach numbers like this as the season progresses, the outlook of the Raptors changes.
Barring some incredible good fortune for Toronto (or incredibly bad misfortune for Cleveland) the Raptors still won’t be a legitimate threat to the Cavaliers come playoff time as presently constructed, but at least the journey getting there will likely be more fun if Patterson’s shot starts to fall.
Just because it happened last year doesn’t mean it will happen again this year, but I do have a hard time seeing Patterson continuing to shoot this poorly. At worst he will likely shoot around league average when in a catch-and-shoot situation, and that’s likely enough.
Patterson’s impact on the Raptors as a whole is hard to quantify. Improving the accuracy of his jumpshot will just give us one more positive number to lean on.