While Friday night’s loss to the New York Knicks marked the return of Amir Johnson, the Toronto Raptors power forward was noticeably ineffective in 17 minutes of action, and outside of Jonas Valanciunas, some of the team’s more dependable, low-post threats have recently struggled to maintain an offensive presence in the paint.
With no points, just three rebounds, a pair of assists and a block, the fact that he hadn’t played in nearly two weeks has quickly become the easiest way to justify Johnson’s outing against the Knicks. And while the ankle injury that led to his brief departure had been bothering him for quite some time, inefficiency has to be unacceptable at this point in the season, and Toronto can’t afford to be dominated in the paint with the playoffs closing in.
In the six games prior to his 11-day layoff, Johnson had been offensively mediocre at best with only two games of 10 or more points, despite continuing to provide the Raptors with a solid rebounder who finished with at least six boards in five of those contests.
For a starting power forward on a first-place team, Johnson’s season average of 10.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per night would be a welcome addition to almost any NBA franchise. But on the Raptors, Johnson’s role as a leader cannot be undervalued, and what little playoff experience he brings to the table will be critical in the very near future.
Nevertheless, maintaining at least the same offensive presence that he’s given Toronto all season has to be Johnson’s primary focus over the final three games, but he hasn’t been the only Raptor to struggle in the low post since returning from injury. Since first arriving in Toronto, Patrick Patterson has provided the Raptors with a power forward who’s capable of stretching the floor with an effective three-point stroke.
Also a strong rebounder, GM Masai Ujiri knew that Patterson had been overlooked, but since returning from an elbow injury that sidelined him for 13 games during the second half of March, the former first-round draft pick hasn’t been the same offensive weapon that he used to be.
Including Friday, Patterson has registered over 10 points in only one of the six games that he’s played in since returning. And while he saw only eight minutes of action in one of those contests, the fourth-year pro totalled just two rebounds in two of his last four outings despite seeing at least 16 minutes of playing time in both.
While Patterson’s season averages of 8.7 PPG and 5.2 RPG have never been truly indicative of his role on the Raptors, the well-rounded newcomer needs to contribute more consistently going forward, and much like Johnson, failing to produce right now shouldn’t be tolerated as he is an important piece of the puzzle.