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Pascal Siakam’s career night is a glance into the Raptors present, and future

Did Pascal Siakam let his frustrations out against the Washington Wizards after his all-star snub on Wednesday night?

“I mean, eh, take it as you want. I’m just out here doing my job,” Siakam said during the post-game press conference.

That is an understatement. Siakam torched the Wizards for a career-high 44 points and 10 rebounds, including a flurry of late-game plays to seal a chippy win. On a night that seemed destined to revolve around Linsanity, it was Siakam walking off of the court to a standing ovation.

“They get loud, the ‘MVP’ chants, you can hear that. It’s pretty cool,” he said.

Most Valuable Player? Not so much. But Most Improved Player? Siakam just staked his claim to that prize, if he hadn’t already.

It is not uncommon for Siakam to be the energizer that reinvigorates Toronto’s sleepy spells. However, during his 32 minutes, Siakam provided more than just a spark – every facet of his game was on display. It certainly caught the attention of his new teammate.

“I knew he was good but tonight was something special,” said Jeremy Lin. “I’m talking both ends of the floor…He showed the full package tonight.”

The full package indeed. Siakam has evolved into the prototypical modern wing. His length triggers turnovers and his quickness spearheads the fast break. The Raptors are currently fifth in the league in fast-break points at 18.1 per-game and Siakam is 14th individually at 3.6 fast-break points per-game. The efficiency of his shot chart against Washington would make Daryl Morey’s heart flutter.

Siakam’s shot selection over the season matches his outing on Wednesday night – 93 per cent of his two point attempts come within ten feet of the rim this year. The vast majority of Siakam’s three point shots come from the corner. If they start to go in at the rate they did against Washington, well, goodnight.

Still, the essence of Siakam’s game is hustle. He is currently third in the league at contesting opponent 3-point attempts and 13th in loose balls recovered. It’s what makes Siakam, Siakam. After Toronto stuttered to open the second half, the Cameroonian pushed the floor to get easier opportunities for himself and his teammates. Fifteen straight points later and Toronto were back in business.

A player’s energy is difficult to quantify yet it is hard to ignore Siakam physically assert himself on the game. After Bradley Beal swatted his layup, Siakam bolted back to contest a shot, hoovered up the defensive rebound, zoomed up-court, and found Kyle Lowry for a wide open transition three.

Everything is starting to click. Siakam has more than doubled his scoring output from last year, jumping to 16.1 points per-game from 7.3. His true-shooting percentage has catapulted from 54.9 per cent to 62.6 this season, the 12th highest number in the league. He is also beginning to score in a variety of ways.

Now loaded with a tighter handle, Siakam is also able to operate on both sides of the pick and roll. This creates more opportunities to get defensive mismatches, an area that Nick Nurse has emphasized.

“We run the little pop out to the wing,” said Nurse. “See if he can get the smaller guy to switch onto him.”

In the clip above, Siakam gets the switch as Beal dies on the early drag screen. Lowry and Marc Gasol immediately assess this and zip the ball back out towards the mismatch. A sudden crossover and Siakam has Beal moonwalking towards his own rim. Easy bucket.

For the record, the Wizards defense was atrocious. Siakam might actually be in the MVP race if he got to go against Jeff Green, Jabari Parker, and Chasson Randle (-16 in 15 minutes!) every night. Green wandered around aimlessly and showed no eagerness in stopping Siakam off of the dribble.

Washington woes aside, Siakam is continuing on his meteoric trajectory. It is the seventh time this season that he has surpassed his career high in points. It might not be his last. There is no doubt that Siakam is now the third option behind Toronto’s two all-stars, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, and  has been ever present amidst their injury absences. Having only missed one game all year and logging at least 21 minutes in every outing since October 21st, Siakam is the only name that should be considered for the Most Improved Player award.

It is crazy to think that Siakam’s name came up in trade rumours, even if reports were that Masai Ujiri never considered including him or OG Anunoby. Not only is Siakam the future of the franchise, he is also the present on a team with very real championship aspirations.

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