After Jared Sullinger went down with an injury early last season, the Raptors’ power forward depth dwindled. And when rookie Pascal Siakam was forced to start for much of the year, fan optimism halted — the season outlook was bleak. However, Siakam wasn’t going to let Toronto down. Growing up, he faced real adversity, including the death of his father. With unwavering confidence, Siakam played tenacious defense. Soon, he became the newest Raptors’ heartthrob, complete with the relentless hustle of Jerome Williams. After going 23-11 during his tenure as a starter, he instilled hope that the Raptors may live to see an extended post-season run once more.
Of course, no player is perfect. During that same period, fans observed some less-than-stellar aspects of his game. Siakam’s player efficiency rating was plain awful (11.5). For comparison, Rajon Rondo had a superior player efficiency rating as a Chicago Bull (13.6) — yikes. While Siakam’s field goal percentage was respectable (50.2%), his three-point percentage left much to be desired (14.3%). In a league trending towards three-point shooting big men, Siakam showed that he must improve upon this facet of his game.
As the season progressed, Siakam’s minutes were allocated to Lucas Nogueira, the newly acquired Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, and occasionally fellow rookie Jakob Poeltl. He spent much of the year on the Raptors 905, readying himself for the Las Vegas Summer League, and eventually looking to cement himself as a staple on the Raptors’ roster. So, let’s find out what happened since then.
In the summer league, Siakam showed off an improved three-point shooting stroke, shooting 36.4 percent from deep. In an NBA filled with athletic, sharpshooting big men, an improved shot bodes well for his future. His athleticism and mobility paid off, as he became more comfortable slashing to the basket, handling the ball, and even distributing a considerable amount.
Siakam also feasted on the inside, utilizing his strength and inside prowess to finish at the rim over defenders. Lastly, he did not appear to regress in any areas, providing hope that he will not suffer from the notorious ‘sophomore slump’, which has been said to plague players heading into their second year.
Of course, those improvements sound too good to be true, and to be fair, small sample size played a considerable factor. He only attempted 11 three-pointers in total over four games, and there’s no telling if this efficiency will translate to the NBA. In fact, it’s incredibly unlikely that it will.
In Summer League, Pascal faced off mostly against rookies and other sophomores — players with little to no NBA experience. While his improved shooting stroke, as well as his intimidating inside presence, is encouraging, it’s certainly not indicative of a significant improvement.
While Siakam will not see a large uptick in minutes this season, his role, along with Poeltl’s, will see an upsurge in significance. Due to the departures of Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, and Tucker this past off-season, the Raptors will be looking to portion out their minutes to the young big men. If the Raptors opt to use Ibaka at the centre position, there is room for Siakam to act as his accompanying power forward, since Ibaka’s ability to space the floor allows for some three-point shooting flexibility.
When Siakam is asked to contribute, I expect to see the same ferocity on defense, combined with a marginally-enhanced inside game and three-point stroke. Come October, everyone has heard their favourite player claim that he gained muscle over the off-season, and is “in the best shape of his life.” Though often untrue, I expect Siakam to have done just that. If his three-point stroke isn’t quite yet up to par, then his ability to bully in the inside must improve. If we don’t see an improvement in either area, he will see his minutes, along with his NBA relevancy, shrink abruptly.
Lastly, in the modern NBA, elite defenders can defend multiple positions. Siakam has proven that he can effectively contain other power forwards, along with the occasional centre or small forward. While his defensive versatility is limited by his height (6’9”), his quickness used in tandem with an improved feel for the game will hopefully allow Siakam to guard smaller players moving forward.
If Siakam’s year pans out, Toronto’s latest incarnation of the Junk Yard Dog just may have enough bite to chew on a good chunk of minutes in the power forward rotation.