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Give Patrick Patterson a chance to start already

At least until Jared Sullinger returns, the Raptors should give Patterson a look in the starting five.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

This particular drum has been beaten enough for the Raptors, but here we are again: Patrick Patterson should get a chance to start for Toronto. The Raptors are into year two of not quite having a proper starting power forward. Last season they ran all year on an empty tank with Luis Scola; this year they’re hanging on with Pascal Siakam as Jared Sullinger heals from foot surgery. This should be Patterson’s time.

Now, far be it for me to base all of this thinking on one game against the Philadelphia 76ers. A game against the Sixers is the absolute tinniest data point one could refer to in the annals of the small sample size. Any team can look great, any idea powerful, against a team that’s just barely been at the NBA level over the past three seasons. Nevertheless, the Raptors came out in the second half of their 123-114 win over the Sixers with Patterson as the starting power forward and get this: it worked like crazy. Toronto blew the game open and — sloppy finish notwithstanding — that was that.

And so, I say again: Let’s give Patrick Patterson a chance to start for the Raptors. Here’s the general reasoning.

Best Five Guys

Right now, Patterson is clearly the most important front court player the Raptors have. He gives them shooting, he gives them defense around the entire court (albeit iffy rim protection), and he gives them smart play. As has been said numerous times this year and last, Patterson in the starting five makes sense because, hey, you usually want to start your best five players. This point is an easy one to make.

Toronto often gets off to a slow start in games. It happened last year, and it has happened this year. God bless Pascal Siakam, but teams have definitely figured him out. And while he does bring a presence as an irritant, and is making the kinds mistakes on defense Dwane Casey can live with (being too active rather than not active enough), it doesn’t always cut it — and definitely not enough against elite teams.

Lineup Flexibility

Another tremendously obvious point to make here: pairing Patterson with Jonas Valanciunas is the best traditional PF-Centre combo the Raptors have. JV is your standard (re: slow) big man who takes up space in the post and lane, protects the rim (or tries to) and does as much of the rebounding as he can. Valanciunas showing a bit of range is nice, but his bread and butter is, and will continue to be, his strong post game.

Patterson, for all his tries at it, has no strong post game. He’s a shooter, through and through (with some supplementary ball-moving skills). So instead of trying to crowbar Scola into the role as they did last year, or hoping on a wish and a star that Siakam can take some deep shots this year, the Raptors could just plug Patterson in to let fly on the regular. That inside out starting combo just makes sense.

Does this potentially mess with the uber-powerful Kyle Lowry plus the bench lineup that includes Patterson? As it is, Patterson usually checks in for Siakam midway or so in the first quarter and then plays out the rest of the half. (Ditto the second half, except when Casey gets funky with his lineups.) Lowry often checks out at the same time. Could the Raptors not just switch things up, start Patterson, sub him out at the six-minute mark for a brief Siakam run, and then go Lowry plus bench in the second as they usually do? I don’t see why not.

Minutes Juggling

Maybe you’ve noticed this happening more lately, but the Raptors have gone to a super small lineup with either Patterson at the five, or multiple guard lineups (including some combination of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Norman Powell and semi-guard DeMarre Carroll. Phew.).

There are two factors to consider here. First, the Raptors rely on Patterson down the stretch for his defense. He’s closed pretty much every game for the Raptors (that wasn’t a blowout) as the only frontcourt player in the rotation who can hang with the new small ball NBA. Against the Cavaliers and the Celtics recently, for example, Toronto had to go with Patterson at the five.

The way the rotation works now, Patterson is usually playing 18 straight minutes or so to close games, which could burn the guy out in that spot. (Sullinger’s presence eventually changes this math.) The Raptors need Patterson — every plus/minus and advanced metric advocates for this. Give him starters minutes sure, but figure out ways to protect him (like Lowry) so he’s good to go for the long haul.

Second, remember that long ass parenthetical up there, the one in which I listed off all of the Raptors useful “small” players? Brace yourself for this: Toronto should figure out ways to leverage all that talent as often as it can! We can refer back to the edict of playing your best players as often as you can too, if you want.

Look, I’m high on Siakam, and I have come around on Jakob Poeltl. But if you notice, once it was determined that Lucas Nogueira could reliably play backup centre, Poeltl’s minutes disappeared. As it stands, Siakam starts (and is getting minutes) due entirely to the injury to Sullinger. Without that, we probably don’t see Pascal much through the season’s first 25 games — again, barring emergency or blowout.

This is an extremely roundabout way of saying the Raptors can solve two problems at once here. The first revolves around Patterson: the Raptors need him, have to keep him fresh, and can pair him more often with JV to both accentuate the strengths of the front court and hide the weaknesses. No more slow starts, and ideally no second half burnout.

The second problem has been screaming (in a good way!) at the Raptors for awhile now: this team kicks ass when it goes small and has arguably the deepest guard rotation in the league. Putting Patterson in the starting role moves Siakam to the reserves, and if he doesn’t fit in there (for now), the Raptors could conceivably go small more often and give his minutes to Powell. Raise your hand if you don’t support this idea. (Again, to be clear: love Siakam, but it’s not his time yet.)

We Know This

We’re tipped past 1,000 words here and I’m confident most of what I have written has already been said elsewhere (and in more concise fashion, obviously). Ultimately, the Raptors are 18-7 and are just a couple of notches below the true elite of the NBA. They refuse to be blown out, and are currently running around with the most efficient offense in the league. Things are good.

Once Jared Sullinger returns — presumably in good form — this power forward problem, as it were, disappears for the Raptors. Sully is a far more useful player right now (when healthy) than Siakam, and while he doesn’t have the range and speed of Patterson, he’ll be a fine starter. Sullinger can even help the team go small too by playing centre next to Patterson if need be.

But in the mean time, with all these obvious statements flying around, I say it once more for the people in the back: let Patrick Patterson start already.