The bigger question with Siakam is whether he can be an elite go-to scorer on a championship team, or if he is best suited to be the secondary scorer like he did in 2019. The Raptors hope it will be the former, but after how the Celtics series turned out, there is definitely room for reflection.
For one, that wasn’t the only time Siakam struggled. Even during the regular season, the Raptors were not particularly great on offense. Injuries took its toll, but it also came down to talent. Siakam was great in transition, but just average in the halfcourt setting, so it’s no surprise that the Raptors as a team mirrored the profile of their go-to player.
You can also dig back into last year’s playoffs, where Siakam started and finished strong versus the Magic and the Warriors, but he sandwiched in a 12-game stretch against Philadelphia and Milwaukee where he averaged 16 points on 39 percent shooting. That speaks to matchups, as both the Bucks and Sixers had their centers neutralizing the paint for Siakam to great effect, but the whole point of a leading scorer is to be impervious of the defense who can get you tough baskets.
There’s no real point in cherry-picking Siakam’s off nights, especially without context. Siakam was off for most of the bubble, and Nurse admitted Siakam’s conditioning wasn’t fully there after he was shut out from the gym for three months during the COVID-19 pandemic. As for the pedestrian regular season metrics, Siakam missed a month with a groin injury and was a step slow after returning. Even still, the Raptors managed the second-best record in the league, so how much did Siakam really limit their potential?
In any case, being the go-to scorer is as much a reflection of his teammates, as much as it’s a reflection of Siakam’s specific skill level. Without a significant acquisition, Siakam will remain the primary option because he is simply the most talented scorer on the roster. Lowry is in his mid-thirties, and operates best as a secondary option. VanVleet improves each year, but his success as a high-volume scorer will be limited by his lack of height. Powell is a great finisher, but he can’t get his own shot and rarely creates for others. That leaves Siakam to sink or swim in his current role.
The other question is whether Siakam should continue stretching his game out to the perimeter, or if he should double down on the post where he is most effective. Right now he is caught between both roles, as he isn’t quite polished enough to thrive as a wing, but his efficiency in the post dropped from the 82nd percentile in 2019 to the 50th this season. It might just be that Siakam is at his best as a power forward, but in today’s game it’s more valuable to have a playmaking wing instead, especially if the Raptors could somehow lure Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021.
We might have already caught a peek at the fully actualized version of Siakam. When Lowry and Serge Ibaka went down in the same game in November, Siakam carried the team averaging 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists, with a steal and a block. He became the secondary point guard on the floor alongside VanVleet, and he reeled off games with 44 points, 36, 35, 34, and 31 over a 12-game stretch where the Raptors went 10-2 with wins over the Lakers, Blazers, Sixers, and Jazz. The key to his success there was his three-pointer, which he hit at a 39 percent clip with over seven attempts per game. That outside shot opened up the rest of the game for Siakam, which should guide his development moving forward.
Look, there’s a reason I’ve mentioned Giles a lot already this offseason, to the extent it’s become part bit and part legitimate. Buying low on a Kings mistake seems right up the Raptors’ alley, and there’s so much to like about Giles if things go all the way right, or even if they go, say, 60th-percentile positive. What Giles has shown in small flashes is really encouraging. It mostly says that the reasons he hasn’t turned pedigree into production aren’t due to skill erosion, or a lack of fit in the NBA game. Instead, it’s largely been medical and developmental, two things the Raptors have bet on their ability to correct in the past.
If things fall into place for Giles, he projects as a rare offensive weapon, one capable of passing at an elite level for a big. With solid footwork as a roll-man and decent finishing ability that should improve as his physicality does, Giles could turn out to be a real pick-and-roll weapon who can screen and either dive or make reads on the short roll. He’s even flashed the ability to operate as a high-low facilitator from the top and read opposing defences at a high level, which would fit Toronto’s offence well. And while he hasn’t added an outside shot yet, he shot 43 percent on longer mid-range attempts this year and hit 8-of-11 in his brief G League stint in 2018-19. Small samples, sure, but it’s something. There are more questions defensively, though they don’t extend to his effort and motor. The Raptors can work with that.
The biggest swing factor here is whether another team out-bids the Raptors, especially with term. Something like a one-and-one deal for $5 million per-season might suit the Raptors, but if one of the rebuilding teams with cap space offers more term or guarantee upfront, the Raptors are limited in what they can do. Considering Giles went 20th in the draft, hasn’t blown away expectations, and has a spotty medical history, that’s no sure thing.
Giles is “My Target” this offseason the same way Hollis-Jefferson was a year ago. We can just ignore that Johnson was, as well.
Describe what the Raptors need on paper and Dunn doesn’t check many boxes. The Raptors need guards who can soak up some offensive possessions, and Dunn ranked in the fourth percentile in usage among guards, per Cleaning the Glass. He also wasn’t much of a pick-and-roll maestro, ranking in the 12th percentile at the position in assist percentage. And he can’t really shoot at all from outside, with a 30.6-percent mark on over 400 career attempts, and only a small-sample blip of respectability in 2018-19.
So why have I become so enamoured with the idea of Dunn as a Raptor over the past two years, to where Eric Koreen shoehorns in references to it when I’m off?
Well, lay out what the Raptors are and Dunn suddenly looks like a much better fit. Namely, there may not be a better guard defender in the league today. Dunn ranked in the 86th percentile for blocks, 98th percentile for steals, 88th percentile for defensive rebounding and 92nd percentile for overall defensive impact this year, again per Cleaning the Glass. That Bulls starting lineup had little reason to be as good as they were defensively, and Dunn was a huge part of that. He ranked top-five in the league in percent of time spent guarding the opposing team’s highest-usage player, helping suppress usage across three, and sometimes four, positions. That versatility and star-stopping are the pillars of the Raptors’ approach with their guard defence, and his elite steal rates help fuel transition offence.
There are ways around Dunn’s limited shooting and lead-handler profile, too. Even with his offensive limitations, he played in 60 percent of Chicago’s crunch-time minutes, so it’s obviously not something that can’t be trusted late. Nick Nurse has been creative with players like Patrick McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the past, and Dunn as a screen-setter and off-ball attacker could have some value. Dunn got to the rim at a great clip and finished really well there on the occasions he did opt to use a possession.
If VanVleet and Lowry are back, Dunn’s skillset is a bit redundant, and it’s likely that Chicago would match any offer sheet the Raptors dangle, anyway. But some mid-tier players are going to get squeezed this offseason, and if that ends up the case for Dunn, he could be a super-charged guard version of what Hollis-Jefferson gave the Raptors last year.
One thing about these jerseys that does really bother me, though: None of them say “Toronto” on them. I suppose this may be my own civic pride standing out, but what happened to “believe in this city, believe in yourselves”? Where’s the pride in being the only team outside of the United States? Not a fan of that direction, at all.
Otherwise, though, the Raptors will be looking good in 2021.
For more, including a statement from Masai Ujiri, check out the official announcement here. You can buy ‘em now at the usual spots, but note that the Statement edition isn’t available just yet.
What do you think? Do the new jerseys measure up? Will you buy buying one for yourself?
It’s not much of a competition between these three in our opinion. “Icon” wins by a wide margin.
It’s simple, but not too simple and the overall theme just makes us think that it would be in your best interest not to turn your back on the Raptors.
Are the Raptors still worse than the obviously crumbling Sixers? Are the Heat really poised to be that much better next season than they were this season? Are we sure the Bucks are indeed that much better than most of the teams — including Toronto! — we’re talking about here? Has none of the last calendar year taught us anything?
All of this is admittedly just one man’s lunatic opinion. But far be it from me to even consider the Raptors falling out of the league’s top five teams — let alone the top ten! — next season. Year after year, of course, we’re told the Raptors are due to regress. And while 2020 was indeed a step back (they didn’t repeat as champions after all), there was very little letdown from this squad in the regular season. They “overachieved” as it were, but really they just played to the level they’ve been playing to for many years now. To suddenly have them sliding further down the upper echelons of the league feels like a mistake.
Time will tell.
Bryan Hayes, Jamie McLennan and Jennifer Hedger discuss reports the Heat will be all-in on trying to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo and debate the selling points the Heat have over the Raptors.
Send me any Raptors related stuff (or just say hi if you want to talk ball on twitter – @rapsfan): [email protected]