Thursday night the Raptors played the Knicks, in a mostly meaningless game sandwiched between two games against the Chicago Bulls during a stretch of the season where the games are equally meaningless for the Raptors as they are for their opponents. The Knicks are just winding down another disappointing season in which another disappointing rookie has mostly struggled and where the lone bright spot has been Mitchell Robinson, who had most of New York’s nicer moments on Thursday night as well. For the Raptors’ part, they’re just trying to get to the playoffs with some semblance of health after a season in which that’s been rare. With Kawhi resting for load management in this game, and OG Anunoby out for concussion-like symptoms after taking an elbow to the head against the Bulls on Tuesday, Fred VanVleet once again got the start.
The Raptors starting lineup against the Knicks just wasn’t going to be fair, and that was clear at the beginning of both halves of this game as the Raptors built large leads despite not really being fully engaged for most of the game, and that really was the entire story of a game that wasn’t terribly interesting. The Raptors are a far better basketball team, and that didn’t really give the Knicks a chance to make the game interesting, as every time they attempted to make a run the Raptors responded in turn. On a lot of nights, the Raptors don’t have to fully exert themselves for more than a few minutes in order to win the game because of their overwhelming talent, and against the Knicks, they really don’t have to fully exert themselves at all.
So instead of writing about the entire events of this game, and there were some nice moments, let’s look at something that Matt Devlin brought up in the third quarter of this game, and that’s what Tracy McGrady and Richard Jefferson had to say on The Jump on Thursday afternoon about the Most Improved Player award.
#TheJump is off today to make room for baseball’s Opening Day, but if you still need your NBA fix, please enjoy @ZachLowe_NBA and @RJeff24 get into a very, um, impassioned discussion on the Most Improved Player award. pic.twitter.com/492wK04ssZ
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) March 28, 2019
This is definitely one of the less defined awards in every NBA season, and it’s fair to have different preferences on who someone would like to see win the award because the criteria for the voters seems to vary from year to year, and D’Angelo Russell has definitely had an impressive season. However, when Tracy McGrady asked if Pascal Siakam has even improved this year, that’s crossing over into the realm of the silly. Siakam has taken on an entirely different role, has established himself as a star this season, and has both developed as a shooter(which he really couldn’t do last year) and as a creator, where he is in large part creating his own offense this season. In this game, it was against a Knicks defense that isn’t anywhere close to good, but Siakam was clearly the best player on the floor for long stretches, a trend that has been present across the season. He scored 31 points in this one and it looked almost too easy in large part for him.
Pascal Siakam was +31.
He now have five games this season in which he's finished with a plus-minus of +30 or better.
That's the most in the NBA, per @bball_ref.
All five have come in games without Kawhi Leonard.
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) March 29, 2019
Also, this statistic from Micah Adams is rather impressive. That Siakam has been such a massive positive for the Raptors during the games that Kawhi Leonard has missed this season hasn’t only allowed the Raptors to have the level of success they’ve had when Kawhi is resting, but it’s made it a non-issue for Kawhi to take those load management days, which has allowed the Raptors to keep him healthy heading into the playoffs. Siakam might not win the Most Improved Player Award, although he does seem to be the current favorite, but his case is undeniable and shouldn’t be questioned.
As for the Knicks, thankfully, this is the last time the Raptors face them this season, and finishing the season with a stretch of games like this one will make the playoffs feel even more welcome when they arrive in two weeks time.