Pascal Siakam has spent the last six weeks providing the Toronto Raptors with some of the best performances of his career. We all saw flashes throughout the season — from his 44-point explosion in February against the Wizards, to his sustained Most Improved Player-level of play, right on up to his team-leading 30 points in a Game 3 victory over the Magic. In his first postseason as a key starter, Siakam is averaging nearly 19 points on 46 percent from the field, while starting all 18 games. And now the Raptors are in the NBA Finals.
This is just his third year in the league, and he’s arguably the Raptors’ second best player next to Kawhi Leonard, perhaps swapping places with Kyle Lowry in the odd game here and there. He’s not only been the team’s most consistent supporting option, he’s been a brick wall on the defensive end. Siakam has managed — despite incredible attention from defensive juggernauts like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo — to post double-digit scoring totals in all but three playoff contests, while switching his defensive assignment onto positions one through five.
Again, this is Siakam’s third season in the league.
The combination of Siakam’s inexperience and useful playoff performances haven’t been seen since Draymond Green’s sudden rise to “star player” during the Warriors’ first championship run. Green was also a third year starting power forward in that Finals series; a player who was quite literally changing Golden State’s future with every passing game. I hate forcing the Green comparisons, but like the Michigan State product, Siakam has also changed Toronto’s trajectory for the foreseeable future thanks to his rock-solid play.
Prior to this breakout season, many fans didn’t know what to expect from the roster outside of Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard. Siakam was — from the jump — a shiny looking glass through which we could peer into the Raptors profound future. His skills on both ends were undeniable, and he suddenly took over the role of the team’s second scoring option — a position many feared would be the Raptors’ biggest weakness this season (unless Lowry returned to 2016 form).
Siakam has remained firmly planted in that role since October, rarely playing as if the pressure was too much for his lean, but sturdy shoulders. By game number 14 of the season, he had just completed a stretch of three consecutive 20-point games, while posting a shooting efficiency (65 percent through 14 games) that Shaquille O’Neal would be proud of. Pascal Siakam — the sprinting ball of energy from past bench mobs — was providing the Raptors with a shockingly steady and dangerous weapon on offense.
However he, like all players, had his bad days. The key difference was these weren’t multiple game slumps. They were the type normally experienced by established scorers — single game blips. After a bad game, Siakam would, more times than not, respond with an absolute killer individual performance. He’s proven to be a dynamite regular season player; a future star with the Toronto Raptors. But the big question still remained following the 82 game stint: could Siakam perform when the pressure was on him?
His first test this postseason was in a player that had his number all season: Jonathan Isaac.
Raptors fans were rightfully worried about this matchup. Siakam averaged fewer than ten points per game against the lengthy Magic defender during the regular season. Siakam had a real challenge ahead of him. Instead, we were treated to some of Pascal’s greatest games of this breakout season. In Game 1, Siakam immediately set the tone of the postseason with (an admittedly less-than-efficient) 24 points on 24 shots. However the statement was bigger — he found a way to score against a dangerous foe and he wouldn’t shy away from the spotlight.
Siakam would go on to average 37.6 minutes and 22.6 points per game in the five games against Orlando, shooting 53 percent from the field and 36 percent from distance. The performance was brilliant, all things considered. Before the Magic series — one in which he played 185 total minutes — Siakam had never broken the thirty minute mark in a playoff game throughout his career. The closest he got was a 27 minute outing in the Game 4 blowout against Cleveland during the 2018 playoffs. Siakam averaged 6.6 points in 17.9 minutes in last season’s 10-game playoff run.
In all, this was unprecedented territory for the young Siakam. He was absolutely unfazed — he simply extended what he was doing in the regular season, as if all the pressure of the playoffs slid off of him like beads of sweat. If there was an ounce of anxiety, he certainly never let it get to him. And for a player so inexperienced, so “green” to the situation, that fact that he’s made only one seriously bone-headed play (when he attempted to trip Sixers centre Joel Embiid) is pretty incredible. Siakam was never benched by the Raptors for bad play in the first three rounds, only foul trouble took him off the floor.
Let’s fast forward to one of the biggest games of his career — Game 3 of the Conference Finals. Siakam and the Raptors were staring at a 2-0 deficit, on their home floor in a must-win game. He stepped up in the biggest way possible, providing Kawhi Leonard with just enough side-kick action to pull off the gutsy win in double overtime. With Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell fouled out, Siakam had no choice in the matter, but he never folded.
Siakam held the poise of a veteran. Yes, even after missing a critical free throw late in regulation — he never faltered. Instead Siakam went back to the free throw line in the second overtime with just 16 seconds left and a chance to ice the game. He nailed both to put the team up six, securing the win.
But it’s not just his veteran-like calmness on the offensive end that has, at times, carried the Raptors as a team. He was the focal point of some of the Raptors’ best defensive stretches against both the 76ers and Bucks. When Leonard wasn’t guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Siakam stepped up and held his ground, waiting for a help defender to come rushing over.
Deep in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in the Conference Finals, it was Siakam’s huge block on Antetokounmpo at the rim and his deflected pass in the paint just a few moments later that helped secure the Raptors’ series victory — two enormous, clutch defensive plays. Whether it’s his ability to sprint toward open shooters; his length and ability to disrupt long players in the post; or his quickness moving laterally to stifle guard penetration — Siakam has been the most important defensive tool in the Raptors’ arsenal.
He’s 24 years old, in just his third NBA season. This bears repeating, over and over again.
But this doesn’t mean Siakam’s unbelievable campaign is infallible — in fact it’s far from it. He still looks rushed on some offensive plays, uncomfortable and out of position. His post play will get better as the seasons go on, and here’s to hoping he can add more of a mid-range jumper. The point is that he’s making far more beneficial plays than detrimental ones. So while his efficiency may have dipped below his season average as time has gone on (tough competition will do that to a player), Siakam’s desire to make an impact has held strong. No matter what his scoring numbers are, he’s able to change the game for Toronto one way or another.
Siakam is proving to be a two-way dynamo, the type of player that shines brightest in the postseason. He continues to blossom in a way that resembles his counterpart Draymond Green (to whom he is most often compared), and even the younger version of his current teammate — Kawhi Leonard. These two superstar players made a name for themselves on the league’s biggest stage. Can Siakam be the next player to become a young NBA Finals legend?