With the No. 27 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors selected Pascal Siakam.
Thanks to a bizarre draft that not even the most tied-in names seemed to have a handle on before or during, the Raptors were picking from names they were considering at No. 9 with the No. 27 pick. The Raptors opted for Jakob Poeltl at No. 9, and the fact that names like Skal Labissiere and Deyonta Davis, players I really liked with the earlier pick, were still there is borderline insane. I had Labisierre 11 on my board and Davis 9, while Poeltl was 12th.
The fit with both becomes a little complicated, but when a potential top-10 talent slides, you make the damn pick and worry about the rest later….Or not.
The Raptors instead did a very Masai Ujiri thing and selected Siakam, who wasn’t ranked higher than No. 43 on any of the five main rankers boards and who I had ranked 45th, well above his average rankings. This is out there, and he comes off the board ahead of not only Labissiere and Davis, popular names, but also ahead of Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Brogdon, Ivica Zubac, Diamond Stone, and some other names they were said to like.
I warned in the lead-up to the draft that Ujiri was likely to just take the guy he liked best in such a wide-open draft, but passing twice on high-upside plays like Labissiere and Davis is pretty shocking. Drafting Poeltl first may have changed their internal rankings as they wanted to avoid developing multiple young bigs at the same time, and it’s possible that a determining factor was that Siakam may be amenable to being stashed in the D-League for a season. That’s something that’s been rare for first-round picks but has some precedent, and you’d have to think the Raptors had assurances he was willing to do it if that’s their plan. That would work similar to an overseas draft-and-stash, where he’d develop while not burning a year of his rookie-level contract and not taking up a roster spot. (For what it’s worth, I’m told more potential first rounders than you’d think were open to this idea this year.)
It’s also possible there were flags in the profile of Davis (who didn’t work out for the Raptors) or Labissiere (who was selected 28th by the Kings, who didn’t work him out), but really, who knows? Obviously, people are going to be upset at passing on some big-name players. That’s entirely understandable. This is strange and out there, and it’s not the first time Ujiri’s made a heat check for his scouting department. I’m not going to try to convince you of the reaching strategy, but let’s at least turn the focus to Siakam and see what we’ve got.
Let’s start with this: He’s a very Ujiri pick. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingpsan, 9-foot standing reach, and an obscene motor, he’s exactly the length-and-hustle package Ujiri’s been shown to value in his draft history. That he’s from Cameroon gives him the international flare, too, though he did spend two years at New Mexico State. And he played well in those two years, improving markedly as a sophomore as a scoring option and a rebounder, averaging 20.3 point, 11.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2.2 blocks. That’s a lot of production, but he’s also a 22-year-old sophomore, so he should have been expected to dominate if he was a prospect.
At the defensive end, the Raptors surely love Siakam’s length and potential to guard multiple positions, or at least the frontcourt positions. The Aggies played too much zone to get a great read on what he can do individually, and that makes the block rate tough to project. What’s clear is that he has the pieces of a good defender, and he should be an above-average defensive rebounder. The other issue, then, becomes his relative lack of experience against high end competition, which is why many focus on his big game against Rico Gathers as evidence of his potential.
What Ujiri surely liked stands out just watching him play, and one wonders if he outplayed Labissiere at the workout in Buffalo last Friday. If there are concerns about Labisierre’s toughness and motor, Siakam would have been the one to exploit them, as he plays very physical and leaves it all on the floor. Those are nearly cliches when it comes to overaged players with good physical profiles, but Siakam’s energy really does jump out at you. It materializes on the glass, in particular, and he’s a good enough shot-blocker that the Raptors may see him as a five, or at least a four-five combo (he’d be able to switch across multiple positions for defensive purposes, but his offensive game is more that of a pivot). He’ll need to add some bulk to make that move, as he’s only 227 pounds, but he’s put on nearly 40 pounds in the last two years, so that might not be an issue.
He’s also not particularly refined at the offensive end, which is why I think the D-League may be an option despite his age. Again, he improved, and his finishing in particular stood out, as he used his energy to get easy baskets off second chances and in transition (where his speed really plays up). He’s not much of a shot-creator yet but he did begin to toy with a mid-range game, even attempting a few threes here and there (and he’s a quality free-throw shooter for a big, which bodes well). The Raptors have shown a willingness to look past small mechanical flaws in a jump shot, and Siakam’s jumper is a little clunky, so that will be the first focus for the coaching staff. He might be able to face up a little bit, too, but it’s unlikely the Raptors will ask him to create for himself unless he’s doing so with the 905.
So, there you go. Nothing I could have written would change your mind much on the pick, but that’s what you can look forward to with Siakam. I’m, uhh, gonna leave it there and let you guys vent.
Here’s Chad Ford’s analysis of the pick: “Siakam is a Masai Ujiri player all the way. Tough, plays with a great motor. Good rebounder and shot blocker. Willing to do all the dirty work. He’s not the most sophisticated offensive player, but he plays his heart out. I think Cheick Diallo might have been a better option for the same type of player. But Siakam ready to play right now.”
Here’s Sam Vecenie’s: “Value-wise, this isn’t a superb pick. But he fits the team’s M.O. in terms of motor and hustle, and he could be a guy who contributes on the offensive glass sooner rather than later. Wish they would have gone with a guy like Deyonta Davis, but Siakam is probably closer to contributing now. C+.”
Just as an aside, since in the newser I tried to write it straight: This is kind of out there. I’m a little torn on the overall strategy, because I thought it made sense to get one guy for now and one long-term project. I just thought they might be flipped 9/27, and I thought one of the high-upside names would be Davis, Labissiere, or one of the European draft-and-stashes (Timothe Luwawu, Furkan Korkmaz, even Isaia Cordinier) I liked. Poeltl and Siakam is a decent enough haul (again, I was higher on Siakam than nearly anyone), it just feels like the Raptors left a bit of potential upside on the table here. Or not. Who knows?