When the Raptors’ championship campaign began back in October, many fans were unsure of Pascal Siakam’s role in the new look lineup. There were a couple things we knew for certain: he was a starter, likely to be a key defensive tool and most importantly, he was ready to show off a new-look jump shot that he had been working on all summer.
Most fans were hoping for a 3-and-D role from Pascal — someone who could defend and hit open corner threes. What Toronto ended up with was something we never imagined.
Siakam debuted his breakout third season slowly, only reaching the ten point mark in two of his first five games. In the 77 games afterwards, he would post single digit point totals just five more times — an unbelievable about-face. Just a few weeks into the season, fans were salivating at the thought of having an offensively inclined power forward starting next to Kawhi Leonard, and the seemingly rejuvenated and determined Kyle Lowry — who was doing his best John Stockton impressions for the first few months of the season.
Amount of games w/ at least 20 points in Siakam’s first two seasons: 1
Amount of games w/ at least 20 points in 2018-19: 26
When comparing Siakam’s third year next to his second, the “most improved” bid is more than obvious. His confidence on the offensive end was nearly unprecedented in Raptors history — once a player not known for much on offense other than creative passes under the hoop and a burgeoning, but inconsistent spin move; suddenly, Siakam was putting up 20 point games like he’d been doing it for five years.
Siakam’s 2019 Postseason averages: 37.1 mins, 19.0 pts, 7.1 rebs, 2.8 asts, .470 FG%, .759 FT%
By the time the postseason came along, he was rightly regarded as the Raptors’ second offensive option, and arguably the team’s most important defensive tool thanks to his ability to defend all five positions with an elite posture. Yes, not only was Siakam an effective scoring option, he was also the team’s most consistent defender. On top of that, he was not a liability as a primary ball handler (a role he was featured in numerous times throughout the team’s championship run), coughing the ball up just 1.4 times per game in 24 games. Both on and off the ball, Siakam excelled.
This elite combination of skills makes Siakam a bonafide star in today’s league, there’s no doubt about that. Honestly, don’t look now, but Siakam is the Raptors’ most valuable asset, becoming the team’s brightest young player almost overnight.
When Siakam reached the postseason, however, some fans were rightly concerned about his ability to adjust to unique defensive pressure. His first test came in the form of Jonathan Isaac — a long, athletic player similar in build to Pascal, and one who was able to effectively stop the Raptor forward in the three regular season games they played. While Siakam ultimately excelled in the first round, there were a few exhibits over the final three rounds which proved that the young forward has some work to do when finishing around the hoop.
When shown effective enough pressure, Siakam has a tendency to rush his looks — tossing up ill-advised shots which sometimes miss the rim entirely. While they were rare moments, it appears a defense can find weaknesses and for his part, Siakam must learn to slow down that part of his game — much like he’s done in so many other facets on both ends.
Siakam also struggled guarding the basket when matched up with a bigger player. Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo both were able to abuse Siakam in the post when matched up in single coverage. Siakam performed best when he was able to roam defensively as a help option, often skying for blocked shots and hedging passing lanes. He’ll never be Marc Gasol defensively in the post, but added strength will benefit him greatly in the future.
The same goes for Siakam’s offensive game, which struggled against bigger players. A more reliable pull-up jump shot could solve that, but it’s clearly still a work in progress. If Siakam is able to add some strength without sacrificing his elite foot speed, while mixing in more midrange and three-point shooting, he should enjoy another career year.
All told, could the Raptors have hoped for much more? Not in a thousand years.