NBA Position Battles: Should Patrick Patterson Be the Regular Starting Power Forward for the Raptors?

Patterson got his first start of the season on Tuesday. Should he stick with the Raptors' starting five?

When the Toronto Raptors faced the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, Patrick Patterson got his first start of the season at the four.

Until that game -- the 38th of the season for Toronto -- the Raptors had used Pascal Siakam in that position for 34 games, Lucas Nogueira for two, and DeMarre Carroll for one (with Norman Powell being the non-regular starter in that game, playing on the wing with DeMar DeRozan, while Carroll -- the regular three -- shifted to the four).

The pairing of Nogueira and regular starting center Jonas Valanciunas will never be a thing under non-injury-related circumstances (Patterson was out), and Carroll is better suited as a three for his perimeter defense, so this particular position battle comes down to Patterson versus the regular starter, rookie Pascal Siakam.

Many pundits believe Patterson is the rightful starting power forward for the Raptors, but what do the numbers say?

For starters, from a per-36-minute and raw shooting number perspective, there's not really much of a difference between the two beyond Patterson's penchant for the three-pointer versus Siakam's never hitting one in his career. If anything, the numbers favor Siakam:

Patrick Patterson 9.2 36.5% 36.6% 71.0% 7.1 2.0 1.1 0.5 0.9
Pascal Siakam 9.6 50.3% 0.0% 75.0% 7.2 0.8 1.0 1.7 1.4

And it's the same story with the advanced metrics. The two players are relatively close in most categories, although there is a slight leaning in Patterson's favor here:

Category Patrick Patterson Pascal Siakam
nERD -0.7 -0.6
Offensive Rating 111 107
Defensive Rating 110 109
Player Efficiency Rating 10.1 10.9
Win Shares 1.6 1.0
Win Shares per 48 Minutes .082 .076
Box Plus/Minus 1.3 -0.9
Value Over Replacement Player 0.8 0.2

With the exception of modest advantages for Siakam in defensive rating, player efficiency rating, and our proprietary metric, nERD -- a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency -- Patterson gets the nod in most advanced stat categories, albeit by a relative hair.

On an individual statistical basis, these two players are fairly close across the board. What sets them unequivocally apart, however, is the lineup data.

When you look at how the Raptors perform when Patterson is combined with the team's four entrenched starters (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas) as opposed to Siakam, it becomes obvious that this position battle shouldn't be much of a battle at all:

5-Man LineupMINOff RtgDef RtgNet RtgAST%REB%eFG%
Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll,
Patterson, Valanciunas
Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll,
Siakam, Valanciunas

The Raptors are a whopping 32.3 points per 100 possessions better when Patterson plays with the regular starters than with Siakam in his place (per net rating). They also assist on more baskets, grab more available rebounds, and shoot more efficiently when Patterson is part of the unit.

It's actually pretty striking that a team with the NBA's third-best net rating in the Raptors (7.4), has a starting lineup -- their most used five-man combination by 170 minutes played -- with a negative net rating.

Meanwhile, the same lineup with Patterson in place of Siakam is third in the league in net rating among combinations with at least 100 minutes played together. They close tight games with the Patterson iteration, so it's hard to understand why they let themselves go down early in games and have to claw their way back when they could just insert Patterson into the starting five and dominate from the opening tip.

The only real argument for keeping Patterson out of the starting lineup is because he's an anchor for the Raptors' top-tier bench. To wit, the "Lowry plus bench" lineup consisting of Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patterson, and Lucas Nogueira has the fifth-best net rating in the league (minimum 100 minutes) at 23.2.

That said, Lowry is part of both of those league-leading, top-five lineups, so why couldn't Patterson be as well? It would take some creative rotation tinkering by Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, but it's far from impossible.

Discussion of who should start at power forward for the Raptors might be moot when new acquisition and projected offseason starter at the four Jared Sullinger returns from preseason foot surgery in the next month or so. For now, however, the Raptors have little reason to start Pascal Siakam over Patrick Patterson anymore. The lineup numbers are just far too conclusive: Patterson is a better fit.