Going into the season, the Toronto Raptors have the starting lineup pretty much set. Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas will resume their spots in the starting lineup. Free agent signing Demarre Carroll will take over the starting SF spot. This leaves one spot left to be decided. The last few years, the starting PF spot had been handled by Amir Johnson. With Amir’s departure to the Boston Celtics on a 2 year/$24 million deal, he leaves a glaring vacancy in the Raptors starting front-line.
Many fans hoped for a trade or the stars to align and have the Raptors land LaMarcus Aldridge to fill the void left at PF. Most recently Markieff Morris’ name has been linked to the Raptors as a possible trade target, but there isn’t much to it as of right now.
So by the looks of it, the roster of the Raptors is set, which leaves Patrick Patterson as the most likely option to start at PF for the Toronto Raptors this year. Patterson was acquired in the Rudy Gay trade from the Sacramento Kings and has been a key piece of the Raptors bench for the last 2 seasons. Now, it looks like he will get his chance to be a starter on the Toronto Raptors. PatPat is a stretch 4, with a solid 3 point stroke and mid range jump shot. In his career he has averaged 8.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG with a 37% 3PT. He has only started 65/333 games in his career and averaged 23.5 MPG.
He has never been given a true opportunity as a starter on a NBA team, and it is most likely going to come this year with the Raptors. Being a stretch 4, with a jump shot he could complement Jonas who is a low post player, and could free spacing for him. On a lineup with Lowry and Derozan, he could provide spacing for them as well to attack the basket, and can join Carroll as the jump shooters on the starting unit. I wouldn’t expect a big spike in his numbers, as he’s going from a top option on the 2nd unit to the 5th option on the starting 5, but his overall skill set can complement the team as a starter.
It’s also hard to forget this clutch play 2 years ago….
Patterson was given his first true opportunity to be a contributor on a good team with the Raptors, and now he may have an even bigger role.
But I want to make a case, for this next guy to log big minutes at a position that he hasn’t spent a lot of time yet in his career.
He cocked that joint back and he bang’d it on him.
James Johnson was a fan favourite and contributor last year for the Raptors despite inconsistent minutes. Head coach Dwane Casey even stated after the season that he was “probably our most talented player” but couldn’t find minutes for him. Well this year, if that is the case they should probably find minutes for him. Some, or a lot of those minutes could come at PF. With the league at times moving towards a “small ball” type of game, Johnson at 6’9″ and 245 pounds could have the prototypical body of a small ball 4. I would even say at 6’9″ he has the size of a non small ball PF. Johnson’s an incredible athlete with a strong body capable of guarding multiple positions. He attacks the rim well and is great in the fast break.
The only real knock is that he’s a weak jump shooter. Through inconsistent minutes last year, James averaged 7.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG and 1.0 BPG. He also shot 58.9%(!!!!) from the field. Now he only shot around 22% from 3 and 66% from the stripe, so we know his inconsistencies as a shooter.
If he gets some minutes at the 4 beside Carroll and JV, he doesn’t NEED to be an elite shooter with Carroll’s ability to shoot the rock. Johnson can do his thing as a slasher along with Demar, and can be a good defender while Lowry and Carroll are the main outside shooting options. If Johnson can prove to hit a corner 3, he would become that much more valuable. But even with his current skill set, he can be at mininum a strong defender in the post, and be another slashing option which could open up more opportunites for the rest of the starting unit.
James Johnson NEEDS more minutes this year, and this may be the best way to get him them. Johnson has only started about a third of his games played in his career and has averaged 18.6 MPG throughout his career. Johnson is a very, very talented player who I believe can play around the 25+ minute mark for these Toronto Raptors next season, and a fair share of those could come from the starting PF spot, while mixing back in at the 3 in certain matchups.
There is a case to be made for both Patterson and Johnson to be the starting PF to start the season for this new look Raptors squad. Patterson is a true 4, and Johnson is a big, athletic player who has spent the majority of his career at the 3, but has the size to have potential playing the 4 spot. And who knows, maybe veteran Luis Scola will push for big mintues as well, although I see him as a 3rd or 4th big on this team to play around 15 minutes a night. While it looks like Patterson is the heavy favourite to start the season off with the starters, watch out for Johnson, he could surprise us.
In the end, it’s about who finishes the game, not necessarily who starts it. But with these new look Raptors, there are lots of options to play around with all these positions. There could be lots of small ball where we even see Carroll play some minutes at the 4. There could also be another small ball approach that sees Carroll at the 3, Johnson at the 4, and Patterson at the 5 in different situations, which could be a very fun lineup to watch against specific matchups. But come opening night, the starting PF position is up for grabs, and will be exciting to see how it all plays out. Keep an eye on both of these guys throughout training camp.