Ever since the departure of stalwart Amir Johnson, the power forward position for Toronto has been something of a 6'9'' question mark. Many assumed Patrick Patterson, the Raptors' returning 26-year-old long-bomb specialist, would be the nominal starter heading into the 2015-16 season. Yet with the addition of veteran Luis Scola, to say nothing of reclamation project Anthony Bennett and the versatile James Johnson, the matter still feels unsettled.
Last night, in the Raptors' second last preseason game against the Cavaliers, Coach Dwane Casey opted to start Scola, who felt "very good" about the opportunity. The context of the game--a drab affair against a Cavs team without LeBron or Kyrie Irving--provided only the smallest of small sample sizes. However, Scola's play in his 15 minutes was indicative of the quality and dimension of game he can provide Toronto. His adaptable skill set, based on post moves from either side of the basket, solid positional awareness, heady passing and a smooth 15-20 foot jumper, make Scola a good fit with any Raptors lineup combination. At this point in his career, he won't surprise you with highlight reel plays, but he won't embarrass you much either. (Except maybe when, yes, LeBron is involved.)
This is not to overlook Patterson's potential as a starting power forward. On paper, the benefits of starting Patterson (particularly with big man Jonas Valanciunas) are obvious. He's a career 37 percent three point shooter (having touched over 40 percent a couple times in his career, including two seasons ago) and that ability to space the floor makes him valuable at the 4-spot. While Patterson does not have Scola's post-move savvy and polish, he's ten years younger, quick-footed and comfortable working from the 3-point line inward. Unfortunately, the first and second most used lineups last year that paired him with Valanciunas produced net ratings of -3.4 and -22.9. Now, not all of that was Patterson's fault, but it doesn't help his starter case. And when considered through the prism of Patterson's preseason, marred by invisible or inattentive play, the pressure of being the starting power forward appears to have overwhelmed him somehow. "It's just getting used to everything," Patterson acknowledged after last night's game.
All of this is not to disregard the other options, namely Anthony Bennett and James Johnson. Well, actually, check that: we do have to disregard them. Despite Casey's effusive praise of Bennett's defense in the preseason, he still tracks as, at best, a spot player in the Raptors' regular rotation. And Johnson didn't even get into the game last night, his spot as a backup three or four feels supremely situational at best. Being blessed now with a functional two-way player of DeMarre Carroll's calibre (who could even play the 4 too in some situations!) has emboldened Casey to sink Johnson into whatever freelancing dog house he's built for himself. It gets us to a fairly binary choice.
Both Scola and Patterson can fit with various lineup combinations for the Raptors. Both have their pluses and minuses in whatever context they're thrown into. Both can potentially lay claim to the starting power forward spot. Ask a Raptor like Carroll, for example, and he'll tell you "it really don't matter" who gets the start.
But only one will. So then, who will it be?