The Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has only one decision to make about his starting lineup during preseason. Who starts at power forward, Luis Scola or Patrick Patterson?
Casey is keeping the contest clean and giving the backup an honorable explanation. This decision isn’t to be made based on who is the best player, rather it’s all about who fits best with center Jonas Valanciunas.
“We got to find out who fits better with JV at the five position more than anything else, (both) offensively and defensively more so than who wins the spot,” Casey explained. “The better person may be in the second unit. We got to figure that out, but it’s not going to be a competition about who beats who out. It’s going to be who fits better. Who fits better with Biyombo in the second unit. Those are the things we got to find out in camp.”
One of the main reasons Scola came to Toronto was for a chance to contribute on the court. The big Argentine felt underused in Indiana playing behind All-Star David West and he’s chomping at the bit to show he can bring his FIBA Americas MVP level of play to Toronto.
“I expect to be a big part of the (Raptors),” Scola said on his arrival in Toronto. “I expect to be a big part of the rotation and hopefully whatever (time) I get initially I get to grow by playing (well) and earn the respect of the coaches.
“I wanted to find a place where I could win and be a part of the team, be important.”
Scola has made a big impression on his coaches in camp. Casey recently described him as a ‘godsend’ and president and general manager Masai Ujiri referred to Scola as ‘spectacular.’ If the starting job becomes based on experience and Casey’s comfort level, Scola will get the nod to help bring the much younger Valanciunas along.
Patterson has blossomed into an outstanding stretch four over his season and a half in Toronto. An excellent perimeter defender and key player in smaller lineups both offensively and defensively. The knocks against him would be his handful of ineffective starts over the past two seasons and a decidedly pedestrian rebounding rate.
At 26-years-old Patterson feels he has earned the right to go for the starting job. He has put in his time and consistently improved. It’s going to be hard to argue with him.
“When I got here Amir (Johnson) was hands down the starting four, so there is an opportunity for me to be a starting four,” Patterson said. “An opportunity for James (Johnson), Luis and Anthony (Bennett) as well. So now it is different because the only spot that’s free in our starting lineup is our starting four position, so it’s up for grabs right now.
“It’s a different mindset heading into training camp trying to showcase my skills, showcase to the coaching staff and all my teammates why I believe I should start.
“As a competitor it’s very important just because being in the NBA you want to start. You make it to the NBA and after that what’s next is to start. So my number one goal was to be in the NBA – accomplished that. Next up is to be a starter – that’s what I am going to work my hardest for right now.
“Part of me (feels it’s my job to lose) just because Amir was the starter and I was the backup four. Without Amir here I feel like I should go into that role, but everything is earned, nothing is given. Just going out and proving myself and in my mindset I feel like I am going to prove and hopefully earn (it).”
Last season Casey was trying to encourage Patterson to rebound more aggressively as it is about the only hole in his game and if he wants the starting job, boosting his rebounding rate would go a long ways towards securing it. Unfortunately, concerns about the Raptors ability to rebound is still at the top of Coach Casey’s mind as training camp winds down.
“If we have one thing that we got to think about is our rebounding,” Casey said after practice recently. “We are getting stops, but now we got to come up with it. We got to do the dirty work at the end to rebound and I would say that was one thing we did a better job today, but is still an area of concern.”
Scola, who grabbed an impressive 25.6 percent of the available defensive boards last season, has caught Casey’s eye as a solid positional rebounder during camp, but that’s nothing new. Scola has always had the knack for being in the right place at the right time to secure the ball after a shot attempt. You can’t teach what comes naturally.
Bismack Biyombo is another natural rebounder, but more from a heightened level of activity and if Patterson can’t find it in himself to go get the ball, a pairing in the second unit with Biyombo could be on the table. It wouldn’t be all bad for Patterson or the Raptors as a team either. Patterson can score and Biyombo loves to set screens to get his teammates open shots and driving lanes. They are likely an excellent fit at the defensive end of the court as well.
There is no need for Casey to jump to any conclusions about who should start. Both Scola and Patterson have a lot to contribute. Fit will be the determining factor for who starts and who comes off the bench and opposing lineups and who’s hot will play the bigger factor in who gets the more important role of closing games. Who starts shouldn’t be that big of a concern.
“(Scola) is smart,” Casey said. “He is an old soul. He has been there before, there is nothing that rattles him. He is talking (at camp) even though he is going to a new system, he is talking to other guys. He is a godsend for our team.”