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Fun and Good Highlight: Pascal Siakam has his cake and eats it too

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Pascal Siakam doesn’t need to compromise his game to be a perfect fit with the Raptors bench, as this week’s Fun and Good Highlights show.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Pascal Siakam is perhaps the most unique young player on the Raptors. When you think of Jakob Poeltl a half dozen active players come to mind as close approximations of what is presumed to be his future: Steven Adams, Clint Capela or Andrew Bogut just to name a few. Fred VanVleet has a clear blueprint for success laid out for him in the form of players like Patrick Beverley and Kyle Lowry. Delon Wright has long combo guard contemporaries such as Malcolm Brogdon, Josh Richardson and Caris LeVert. OG Anunoby looks to eventually evoke elite “3 and D” guys like Otto Porter or maybe even Paul George.

Siakam doesn’t really have anyone like him. I’ve heard people mention Draymond Green, but Green is so physically different from Siakam that it becomes a difficult comparison to make. Every time I enter something remotely close to Siakam’s stat line into Basketball Reference’s wonderful season finder tool I end up in a similar scenario to the Fox Sports Indiana guys who made this hilarious graphic:

I just get a list of Siakam, a bunch of Hall of Famers and a bunch of future Hall of Famers (and also sometimes Kelly Olynyk).

Despite this, Siakam doesn’t conform to the typical understanding of what a future star looks like. He doesn’t take enough shots, and therefore doesn’t score enough points to be viewed in such a light. Nonetheless, he possesses four skills that are generally only possessed in combination by star players. He is 6’9” inches tall, he can dribble the ball for extended stretches while moving at near full speed and he is able to effectively pass or finish while dribbling at near full speed.

When I think of the players around the league who share this set of skills with Siakam the vast majority of them are All-Stars or near All-Stars; guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and Aaron Gordon. Perhaps the only contemporary of Siakam’s not to fit this bill is the aforementioned Olynyk, and Olynyk’s version of “dribble at near full speed” is very different from Siakam’s. Siakam is a rangy, athletic big man with ball skills who operates almost exclusively in an supportive role offensively, there just isn’t anyone else like that in the NBA right now.

So, I’m four hundred words into my column and I haven’t referenced a single anime yet, meaning I’ve likely retained the average reader for about four hundred more words than usual. However, I’ve decided that it is time to invoke the reader reduction protocol. We are about to get very weird here. I’m also about to spoil a very, very good movie. I’ve given you fair warning.

The climax of Hideaki Anno’s End of Evangelion features an extremely striking image. Humanity as we know it has ceased to exist. Humankind has been merged into a hiveminded primordial soup, shown as a vast orange ocean. The film’s protagonist was given the opportunity to reject this existence and continue as a normal human being. He lives on the shores of this ocean, totally and utterly alone.

The iconic “sea of tang” which holds the collective consciousness of all of mankind from “End of Evangelion”

In this climax Anno has contrived a situation where the concepts of togetherness and individuality are presented in dichotomy. Both ideas are brought to their repugnant extremes: the individual is completely isolated, those who chose togetherness cease to be seen as people. Anno intended EoE to be a coming of age story, the implication of the scene being that as one comes of age a choice is made between these two extremes. If you hold onto what makes you an individual then you’ll end up perpetually misunderstood and isolated. If you sacrifice what makes you unique to fit in with others then you’ll end up nameless and forgotten.

Many players throughout the NBA sacrifice components of their game to become a part of a greater whole. The Golden State Warriors come to mind in this respect, we will perhaps never know what a Klay Thompson or Draymond Green led team truly looks like. The Warriors come with their perfect foil, LeBron James, surrounded by teammates and yet somehow totally alone in bearing the burden of his franchise.

Yet what Anno presents in the climax of EoE is a false dichotomy. We don’t necessarily have to choose between these two extremes, as the Pascal Siakam and the rest of the Raptors’ five man bench proves to us. Siakam is totally unique, but he’s unique in a way that perfectly compliments those around him. He runs the floor so that Fred VanVleet can find him in transition:

Delon Wright runs the floor so Siakam can find him in transition:

Siakam slices to the rim so he can drop the ball off to Jakob Poeltl at the dunker’s spot:

He defends multiple positions at a high level so that C.J. Miles doesn’t have to:

Everything Siakam does interlocks seemingly perfectly with what the rest of the bench can and cannot do. As such he doesn’t need to conform to a pre-existing role, he’s allowed to be a truly singular individual while still being a part of a greater whole.

Not everyone finds the perfect compliments to themselves. Not everyone gets to have their cake and eat it too. But the 2017-18 Raptors do, and that’s a huge part of what makes them so fun and so good.