The wound is still fresh. As this player review is being written, head coach Dwane Casey is giving his post-season presser, and memories of the playoffs are flashing before my eyes. The once ‘fun and good’ Raptors’ season prematurely coming to an end floods through my brain like the sinking of the Titanic — a beautiful vessel suddenly striking an unmovable object. It’s enough to dishearten even the most optimistic fan.
It would be an understatement to say there were some bad times. But, let’s not forget about the good times, particularly from some of the young guys on the roster. Of course, many have been touting OG Anunoby’s performance in the playoffs, and rightly so: he was often the lone bright spot that shone through the omnipresent darkness of LeBron’s shadow.
However, I’d like to submit that while the Raptors’ future lies largely in the hands of OG, Pascal Siakam will play just as important of a role. He’s shown flashes of brilliance on both ends of the floor in both the regular season and the playoffs: he’s the real deal.
Pascal Siakam had the second best defensive rating (102.0) out of Raptors players contributing 15+ minutes per game in the regular season. (Fred VanVleet was first). Numbers aside, Pascal’s ability to stay balanced, recover, and stay on his man is top notch:
Love this closeout by Siakam. Closed out on Kieff under control and did a masterful job moving/sliding his feet to cut off his driving lane. pic.twitter.com/Zp7Kvh86WV— Ryan (@ry_nguyen) April 28, 2018
Siakam’s combination of length and athleticism makes him a nightmare in one-on-one scenarios. In just his second year in the league, Siakam’s court awareness and decision making on the defensive end have already made tremendous strides. He can stick with pretty much anybody on the perimeter — it’s always a treat watching opposing guards switch onto Siakam and think they have the speed advantage, only to be surprised by a lightning-quick wall that they cannot blow by.
Here’s Siakam guarding one of the fastest guards in the league, John Wall, in a one-on-one scenario during the playoffs:
Great job by Poeltl showing vs Wall + getting into the paint early/stunt by Wright on Gortat to allow Siakam to recover, but Siakam does an excellent job of throwing his chest out and moving his feet to cut off Wall to force the turnover. pic.twitter.com/qZMTyJG4HA— Ryan (@ry_nguyen) April 28, 2018
On the offensive end, Pascal’s improvements were a shocking revelation to most. He’s become a playmaker, making quick decisions that catch defenses off guard and is developing a handle that allows him to facilitate a fast-break. He loves to find cutters to the rim, and often his partner in crime is none other than his good pal Jakob Poeltl:
Siakam’s post play has also seen a dramatic improvement, showing poise that he hadn’t displayed before this season. He’ll often whip out a spin move that, in tandem with his length and speed, is difficult for his defender to stop.
Finally, as has been discussed all too often during these playoffs, the Raptors have been described as “mentally weak”, and, according to CBS Sports anchor Nick Kostos, “fold like a cheap suit at the sight of [LeBron]”. I can say with full confidence that that statement certainly does not apply to Siakam. His tenacity and audacity made for one of my favourite understated playoff moments, where LeBron becomes noticeably agitated by Siakam’s physicality on defense. It’s a small thing, but it’s something.
Pascal is still learning, but has exemplified on both ends of the floor how he will terrorize the league in the coming years. As Siakam develops alongside his fellow Bench Broskis (buy the t-shirt here), we can surely expect more electrifying moments like this, season after season:
Siakam is still just 24 years old, and relatively skinny — as the years go by, I would expect him to pack on muscle to be able to more adequately guard opposing bigs in the post. As of right now, that remains a major weakness. He can be punished on the inside simply by not being able to physically stand his ground against the likes of stronger big men, such as DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
As well, while we’ve seen some improvements in his handles, he’s certainly not a complete point-forward just yet. He can look somewhat clunky and not entirely in control of the ball at times, and while his assist-turnover ratio is quite impressive (highest among Raptors big men, fifth highest of all significant contributors on the team), many of those assists occur when Siakam is stationed underneath the basket and dishes to a cutting teammate, which is a less turnover-prone play than a pass attempt while moving.
Lastly, Siakam’s shooting could, ahem, use some work. In the 2017-18 season, he only connected on 22 percent of his three-point attempts. In early February, he was shooting the worst three-point percentage in NBA history with more than one attempt per game, at 17.6 percent. However, he ended the season on a high note. From the month of February until the Raptors’ playoff elimination, his three-point percentage rose to 38, albeit on a sample size of only 45 attempts. If nothing else, this bodes well for his future, especially considering we’re aware of his relentless work ethic.
The Grade: A-
Siakam has improved on facets of his game that most fans and analysts alike weren’t expecting. Before the season began, I wrote in my player preview that Pascal needed to improve on his inside game, as well as his three-point stroke. While he succeeded on both fronts, his real improvement came in his play-making. His ability to make quick decisions benefits his teammates and contributes to an undeniable chemistry with the rest of the bench. His defense is already stellar, and will only continue to improve when he packs on muscle and continues to gain experience in the NBA.
The prospect of watching OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam grow together into a trio of impossible length, athleticism and unfazed attitudes is tantalizing. Barring some unforeseen roster changes, the future of Toronto basketball is bright: all hail the Bench Mob.