Kawhi Leonard is gone, and in his wake the Raptors are searching. The roster was an egalitarian one behind Leonard last year, with Kyle Lowry orchestrating, Pascal Siakam scoring with efficiency, and a deep cast of role players in support. This season, however, Toronto is at a crossroads. Lowry is the all-time Raptor, but he’s 33 going on 34. Siakam is a rising star, but the question of whether he can be the franchise’s centerpiece is still an open one. The cast of role players mostly remains, but whether any of them can take the next step and shed the role player label remains to be seen.
Whose Team is it Anyways will be a column that tracks the best Raptor, tallying up the the results week by week, so that by the end of the year we can know whether this season was part of the Lowry era, the Siakam era, or the start of another era in Raptors’ history altogether.
What the Numbers Say:
Box score stats:
Points per game leader: Pascal Siakam (27.5 PPG)
Assists per game leader: Kyle Lowry (6.8 APG)
Rebounds per game leader: Pascal Siakam (10.3 RPG)
Net rating/plus-minus & their derivatives:
On-court net rating leader: Marc Gasol (+16.8 points per 100 possessions)
On/off differential leader: Fred VanVleet (+12.4 on, -13.5 off, +25.9 differential)
Player Impact Plus-Minus leader : Fred VanVleet (+1.68 PIPM)
Box Plus-Minus leader: OG Anunoby (+5.7 BPM)
What Ya Boy (Jacob Michael Mack) Says:
This comes down, as it will in most weeks, to Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. OG Anunoby has been the Raptors’ best defender and has been efficient offensively, but he’s only playing a bit part on the offensive end. Fred VanVleet has been good, but inconsistent, in his larger role; shooting well from deep and orchestrating the offense better than he has in past years, while still being limited by his size as an interior scorer. Meanwhile, Siakam and Lowry have stepped into their new roles as the Raptors’ first and second options respectively, and both have been consistently excellent.
Siakam is going through an adjustment period. He’s skilled enough, though, that even in his adjustment period he’s thriving. Through the opening four games of the Raptors’ season Siakam has run a 32 percent usage rate (for those unaware, that means he’s finishing 32 percent of the Raptors’ possessions when he’s on the floor), a ludicrous increase on the 20.8 percent usage he ran last year. Despite this jump in usage he’s still been incredibly efficient, keeping his True Shooting Percentage above 60 percent, largely as a result of the improved jumper he’s showcased. Siakam has rocketed past expectations, he’s been phenomenal.
Siakam hits his 5th three of the game right in the defenders face pic.twitter.com/SqwIf5thdm— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) October 26, 2019
But he’s still going through an adjustment period. Siakam has had some issues with his new offensive responsibilities that have manifested in predictable ways. He’s become much more turnover prone, running a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, clearly unused to some of his new playmaking responsibilities. Those additional playmaking responsibilities have also made Siakam much more prone to offensive fouls than he’s been in the past. That doesn’t just mean turnovers, it means foul-trouble, and in the case of opening night it meant he fouled of the game.
Siakam’s scoring efficiency has also slipped inside the arc, as his number is being called more often in the post. Siakam post-ups used to be opportunistic, taking advantage of mismatches, now they’re one of the Raptors’ first options for halfcourt offense.
Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, is stepping back into a role he knows well. He’s older and slower than the last time he was asked to operate as a second option, but he’s exuded the confidence that comes with familiarity. He was just 3-of-14 from the field when attempted the pull-up jumper that buried the New Orleans Pelicans in the Raptors opening night game, but he still stepped into it without hesitation. What else would you expect, given how many times he’s been there before?
Lowry has re-embraced his larger role in the way you’d expect from a shrewd vet. He’s bombing threes, grifting fouls and noticing opportunities to score that no one else could pick up on. Despite concerns about his age he’s rarely looked overtaxed, even with him leading the league in minutes through one week.
This puts me in a tough spot, and forces me to make a cowardly decision. I’m going with a tie, and will award half a point in the Official Whose Team Is It Anyways Standings to both Lowry and Siakam. Cowardly though my decision is, the stretch run of the Raptors’ Monday night game against the Orlando Magic bears it out. Most teams lean on one star in crunch time, throwing them the ball and asking them to get a shot up. The Raptors never made a decision between Lowry and Siakam on Monday. They ran a two-man game down the stretch, having Siakam screen for Lowry and taking what the defense gave them.
It worked, and the duo buried the Magic, trading opportunities to score.
Official Whose Team Is It Anyways Standings
T1. Kyle Lowry (0.5 points)
T1. Pascal Siakam (0.5 points)
T2. Everyone else (0 points)
Stats courtesy of stats.NBA.com, Basketball Reference (BPM) and Jacob Goldstein (PIPM)