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Decision Time: Who Starts at Power Forward?

The Thunder (Billy Donovan specifically) are in a tough spot right now. Donovan has yet to name a starter at Power Forward, and the highly anticipated season opener with the Golden State Warriors is just a few days away. Patrick Patterson has gotten the nod in the Thunder’s five organized contests this season (Blue-White scrimmage, four preseason games), but has not looked sharp early on.

Today, I take a dive into the cases for both Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant, and where they fit in a projected starting lineup of Westbrook/Schroder, Ferguson/Diallo, George, ______, and Adams for the season opener next Tuesday night.

The Case for Jerami Grant

Preseason Stats: 9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1 BPG, 31.4% FG, 30% 3P, 22.8 MPG

Projected 2018-19 Stats*: 13.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 50.8% FG, 32% 3P, .120 WS/48

He’s just looked… better: Grant has been much more effective than Patterson thus far in the preseason. Per 36 minutes in four preseason games, he averaged 14 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He has, however, been very sloppy and, at times, reckless with the bench unit, shooting at a 31 percent clip from the floor and 30 percent from three.

Playing faster: If Donovan does elect to start Grant over Patterson, it would allow the team to play at a faster pace. Grant does much of his damage making electric plays in transition, be it filling his lane on a fast break on chasing down an opponent for a block. Grant, a superior athlete to Patterson, has that big play ability that is so important in marquee games.

Building confidence: Much like Patterson, Grant plays his best basketball in big games alongside his team’s best players. Rolling Grant onto the floor with the Thunder’s No. 1 unit will build his confidence and allow for him to play to his strengths: screening and rolling, switching and playing stingy defense while making plays at the rim as well.

*via Basketball Reference

The Case for Patrick Patterson

Preseason Stats: 4.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 26% FG, 25% 3P, 21.5 MPG

Projected 2018-19 Stats*: 9.8 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 40.6% FG, 37.5% 3P, .101 WS/48

He’s been here before: Patterson has started 76 games over his 8 year NBA Career, including three starts filling in for Carmelo Anthony in 2017-18. Though Patterson hasn’t been a career starter, he has still very much been a key piece of the rotation throughout his career. He’s averaged 22.7 minutes over 559 games.

Shooting fit: A lineup of Schroder – Diallo – George – Grant – Adams is SURE to have spacing issues. Patterson, a career 37 percent three-point shooter, would unclog the offense and open up driving and cutting options for the guards and Paul George. Unclogging the paint also gives Steven Adams more room to work with.

Getting in rhythm: Patterson plays his best basketball when playing alongside his team’s front line guys. In 2014-15 in Toronto, Patterson played a key role for the #1 seeded Raptors. He played 26.6 minutes per game, with much of that time spent on the floor with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. He averaged 8.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.9 APG shooting a 57.7 percent eFG and 37.1 percent from three. Playing alongside Paul George and Russell Westbrook while letting Steven Adams do the dirty work under the basket caters to the style of play that 2Pat thrives in.

*via Basketball Reference

The Verdict

Grant played much better than Patterson in the preseason — there’s no doubt there. He shot at a higher clip, scoring at almost double Patterson’s rate (PER36) and played more aggressively than Patterson; Grant took 15 free throw attempts to Patterson’s two in the four games. However, I believe Grant would be much more effective coming off the bench for the Thunder. His high-energy play alongside Schroder and Noel will allow for the reserves to maintain and perhaps even stretch leads when the starters need a rest. If Grant were to start, the Thunder would have only one true shooter in the lineup (Paul George) to stretch the floor and set the tone for the rest of the game.

Patterson simply didn’t play well in the four preseason games. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 7.53 PPG and 7.95 RPG on a very poor 26 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three. It was, after all, just the preseason, and I think Patterson will hit his stride with the starters over the course of the season. His shooting ability unlocks many options on offense and he is a net plus on defense as well.

There are no compromises with Patterson; he brings spacing, even on his off nights, and I believe he would be a fine option as Billy’s starting four. While Patterson doesn’t play with the energy Grant does, he makes all of the right decisions and makes the smart plays that win ball games. Patterson is the better fit with the starting five, and I believe Donovan knows this as well.