Toronto Raptors Must Improve Their Power Forward Position

The Toronto Raptors have a glaring hole at the power forward position, and Patrick Patterson isn’t filling it.

Over the past few seasons the Toronto Raptors have been a team that was much greater than the sum of their parts. Outside of the tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the team lacked go-to options offensively, yet the Raptors still finished fifth in offensive efficiency last season.

This season, the white hot shooting of DeRozan has them second in offensive efficiency. But the poor frontcourt play creates concern over where their offense will come from when DeRozan begins to cool.

A large part of their offensive success last season was due to their outside shooting. The Raptors were fourth last season in three-point percentage as a team and had six rotation players shooting above the league average of 35.4 percent: Lowry, Luis Scola, Norman Powell, DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson. The spacing is key to Toronto as both their stars excel when they attack the basket. DeRozan needs room to drive, as well as Lowry to create drive and kick opportunities.

This season the three-point shooting just isn’t there. The Raptors are 25th in the league in three-point percentage and only Powell and Ross are shooting above league average. The impact on the team is apparent any time you watch them play.

73.2 percent of the shots DeRozan takes this season have been contested (opponent within four feet of him). While he’s shooting 54 percent on those shots, that simply isn’t a sustainable offense long-term. The team owes it to him to provide better spacing and easier shots.

The most glaring difference in the spacing from the team comes at the power forward position. Last season Scola shot 40.4 percent from three while Patterson provided 36.2 percent shooting. With Jared Sullinger out with a foot injury, rookie Pascal Siakam has been starting for the Raptors.

Siakam has been a massive bright spot to this point in the season, but he’s still a rookie and is not a stretch-4. As a result, Patterson has been getting starters minutes, playing over 30 minutes per game. To this point in the season, he has failed to play at the level we are accustomed to seeing from him.

Patterson is shooting a woeful 28.6 percent from the floor and 21.2 percent from three so far. The lack of production from Patterson is disappointing, given the impact he has had during his time in Toronto. Last season the Raptors outperformed opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and were outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.

Statistically, the offense and defense is still better with him on the court — 6.3 points per 100 possessions better. But that likely has more to do with the alternatives being rookies, and the defensively deficient Valanciunas.

The shooting is bound to improve, but it’s fair to question if Patterson can handle more substantial minutes. Beyond that, with impending free agency the Raptors must decide if they want to invest in him as a piece of their future. Packaging Patterson with other assets may yield a solid return, but it may come at the expense of defense. Patterson isn’t a lockdown defender, but compared to the rest of the big man rotation he is Dikembe Mutumbo. (One notable exception would be Lucas Nogueira, who has played great since returning from injury).

If Patterson can’t turn it around offensively, or if the team decides to move on from him, it creates problems. While they would obviously like a stretch-4 that can defend, teams aren’t dying to give those away. If you prioritize adding an offensive power forward and compromise on defense, the defensive ceiling for the roster gets called into question.

The consequences of the team’s poor interior defense this year are already apparent. The inexperience of the rookies, plus the issues of Valanciunas, means the team has to play smaller. This may not be an issue if DeMarre Carroll was himself. But with Carroll on a minute restriction and dealing with his own struggles, it means the team must dig deeper into their rotation.

With Powell and Ross playing more frontcourt minutes, it means less rest for DeRozan and Lowry — both of whom are once again top six in minutes played per game this season. When fully healthy, the Raptors should be one of the deeper teams in the league. But with Sullinger out, Carroll and Patterson struggling and rookies playing serious minutes, that depth currently feels like a mirage.

The eventual return of Jared Sullinger will provide the Raptors with more offensive punch from the power forward position. But it is becoming clear that the present roster can only offer patchwork solutions. Despite his struggles, Patterson is still the best of several bad options at the moment.

While fresh faces like Siakam give hope for the future, the reality is they aren’t ready to contribute at the level the team needs this year. The team must evaluate whether or not Patterson is worth the investment, as well as what the alternatives are. But the reality is staying with the status quo means accepting that they are a piece short.

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