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Pascal Siakam continues to evolve his all-around game to perfection

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The Raptors and Pascal both started slow, but as the team has improved, so has Siakam. Here’s how his game as changed subtly to put give himself and the team a better chance to succeed.

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Pascal Siakam made a quantum leap last season with the Raptors, earning himself both an All-Star and All-NBA Second Team nod. Through 26 games this season with Toronto, the chances of him getting even one of those nods seems slim. However, that shouldn’t actually be the case. While Siakam’s three-point shooting has been slow to return after a cold start, Siakam has improved in every other aspect of his game this season.

In fact, Siakam is playing the most complete basketball of his career, and still continuing to improve in every part of his game. His turnaround after a slow start is part of the reason why the Raptors are now back in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

When Siakam passes, the Raptors win

Last season, Siakam had a 28.1 percent usage rate. Of all 25 players with a usage rate of 28 percent and higher last year, Siakam was one of three players to have an assist rate of 17 percent or under. But unlike Jayson Tatum or Joel Embiid — dynamic and/or overwhelming scorers, who also had an assist rate under 17 percent — Siakam was not quite the same overwhelming all-around force on the offensive end. Having the ability to be the Raptors’ primary or secondary playmaker on any given night was an important dimension for him to add to his game.

Siakam has always had something of an eye for passing, but he wasn’t actively looking for every angle like he does now — and he’s gotten better at pasing under duress, the mark of a skilled player. Against the Celtics in the 2020 Playoffs, Boston would clog the paint and Siakam would either drive in anyway, leading to a turnover or forced shot. Any pass he made in these scenarios were rushed or inaccurate, more reactive than proactive.

This season, however, Siakam has raised his awareness on the court and takes advantage of all the attention he gains when driving or posting up, as seen did here.

So just how does Siakam’s passing and playmaking ability factor into the Raptors’ success? Some numbers here jump out:

Team record when Siakam has 4 or more Assists: 8 wins, 3 losses
Team record when Siakam has 3 or fewer Assists: 2 wins, 10 losses

That’s right, the Raptors have just two wins when Siakam has three or fewer assists. Part of this is dependent on how his teammates are shooting, but it also suggests a shift in mindset from Siakam. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be trying to score, but the results are often mixed when — or worse — when Siakam tries to force the issue.

Siakam when he has 20 or plus points: 4 wins, 8 losses
Siakam when he has less than 20 points: 6 wins, 5 losses

All four of those wins in the first stat line there have come within the last two weeks. Prior to that, Siakam looked for his shot more than created for others. Fortuntaely, his recent form finally seems to suggest he’s found a balance of scoring reliably and being a creator. And as a result: the Raptors have been winning more often than they’ve been losing.

Siakam and his Adjusted Scoring Efforts

Siakam’s scoring numbers have regressed a bit this season and that’s in large part because he has been so abysmal from three-point land to start the season. Siakam is averaging 20.6 points per game, but shooting just 30 percent from three. Surprisingly, the low percentage has nothing to do with shot difficulty as almost 80 percent of Siakam’s shots from three are off catch-and-shoot scenarios this season.

If Siakam shot even an honest 35 percent from three this season — which is around where he was at the last two years — he’d be just off his 2019-20 scoring pace while taking two fewer shots from the field.

Siakam 2019-2020: 8.3 FG/18.4 FGA/45.3 FG%/35.9 3P%/22.9 PTS
Siakam 2020-2021: 7.7 FG/16.4 FGA/46.8 FG%/30.1 3P%/20.6 PTS

In this assessment, Siakam isn’t as far off as we think from his All-Star pace last season. Yes, his shot outside the arc has vanished to begin the season, but it is returning. It’s also worth noting that Siakam is still going to the free throw line at the same rate as last season, which is perhaps even more important than his three-point efficiency.

And that’s because Siakam is at his most dominant when attacking from everywhere inside the arc. To that end, he is shooting 47 percent on long mid-range shots on increased volume (compared to 34 percent last year) and he’s now also shooting 39 percent from the floater area (from where he shot 35 percent last year).

Much like Siakam at his best last season, he also looks a lot more comfortable with the ball in his hands around the perimeter. It’s a weapon the Raptors have been missing since the departure of Kawhi. Siakam has been asked to do a lot more with the ball, which leads back to his ability to both score or create for others. In this, 59.3 percent of Siakam’s made field goals have been unassisted, which is a substantial jump from last year’s 51.4 percent.

A part of that self-creation has been his post-ups which have been far more efficient as of late. Siakam posts up about three times per game, and 54.2 percent of the time it results in points. A 6.4 percent increase from last season because of his increased shooting efficiency and assist percentage.

Taken altogether, Siakam gets 0.96 points per post-up possession, which is only 0.1 and 0.05 points behind Embiid and Nikola Jokic, respectively, only two of the heaviest hitters down low in the league. However, Siakam still struggles posting up against people his size or bigger (Jaylen Brown is a prime example). Fortunately, he has learned to attack the mismatch. If Siakam doesn’t get doubled in this scenario, he takes it to the rim and scores — if the double team comes, off the ball goes to the open man. Siakam is right now better from the post than he ever was, and it’s something he should rely on more.

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Yes, Siakam’s start has been slow, and it may look at times like Siakam was a better player last season. However, if you’re paying closer attention to Siakam, it’s clear his overall game has taken a step forward. If Siakam can continue to shoot the three as he’s been doing the past week, then it isn’t crazy to suggest that Siakam’s evenual trajectory this season will be better than last year.

Siakam is a much improved passer, can score from more areas of the court, and the Raptors’ success has come to be more dependent on him. It’s also worth mentioning that his defense has looked the best it’s ever been. So while Siakam may not get the All-Star nod this season, if the Raptors continue to trend upwards, it’s clear Pascal is a large reason why. And if nothing else, that should earn him renewed consideration to be on an All-NBA team again.