Surprise, surprise. Pascal Siakam will not be the centerpiece of a tragic tale describing unprecedented skill loss at the NBA level.
Turns out he possesses all the talent and skill to warp defenses that sit before him, even with a jumper that’s currently far beneath league average from downtown. The shooting will come, but the post-control is already here. Through the west-coast road trip his play became the backbone of the Raptors offense. His brilliance allowed him to carry lineups, and even though the Raptors have been losing a lot of games this season, a 2-8 start with Siakam clearly en route to All-NBA consideration is truly better than slightly above .500 with your max player desperately trying to pull the ripcord on his career. The elevator is going up.
Siakam has been a player who, since his ascension to All-Star status, has been juggling a lot of different skills. Be it the kinetic genius that guides him through his slippery post-spins, or the carefully practiced between-the-legs dribble (that comes a bit too high). He has the means to transport himself around the court, and encounter different possibilities for where he might take a possession. John Stockton was always going to run the pick n’ roll, ‘Shaq’ eats in the post – you get it. It’s not always evident what the best way forward is for Siakam, who has so many possibilities. We’ve been watching a player working through it. Figuring out a hierarchy for his bevy of talents.
The playmaking verve that Siakam has added to his post-game (and game overall) creates, perhaps, the most advantageous playtype that Nurse & co. feel comfortable throwing at teams repeatedly. There’s a lot of promise in his pick n’ roll game as a screener and a ball handler, but the Raptors have been hesitant to spam those types of possessions. And even so, teams generally switch the pick n’ roll when he’s on-ball and he’s more comfortable isolating from that point on.
Let’s talk scoring first, though.
Some of these stats overlap with one another. You can pull-up in isolation or as a pick n’ roll ball handler, for example. Not included in the table: Pin-downs 1-3 | Cuts 6-8 | Dribble Hand-Off 2-4 | Putbacks 5-7 | Transition 5-9 | PNR Screener 2-4 | Closeout 4-7 – If you want the defender info on those, or some more passing/turnover info contact me and I’ll let you know.
The pull-up game. Buoyed by Siakam’s excellent touch in the mid-range, and his reputation as a relentless driver that dictates defenders drop a little further back. Wing, big man, whatever, Siakam has been on point and on balance from the mid-range this year, pouring in 61-percent from 10-16 feet and 50-percent from 16-feet to the 3-point line. He’s 84th percentile in CleaningtheGlass’ long mid-range, and he’s doing it pulling up, while most of the big men who work in that range do it off the catch. If you were hoping Siakam would be the Raptor who began to counter dropping defenses with the ‘middy’, he’s got a piece of it at the very least.
The turn towards the bucket is what many like most about his game, though. In the first 5 games of the year, Siakam was less focused on the rim (only 26-percent of his shots came there). It didn’t lead to terrible looking offense, because he was genuinely making some high-level passes instead of taking it all the way in. However, the Raptors were historically reliant on the 3-point shot in that stretch and that meant Siakam became as high-variance as the Raptors offense. Long stretches without baskets, or meaningful creation. The rim pressure that has accompanied Siakam’s less hesitant first step and returning touch around the bucket has not only added some desperately needed diversity to the Raptors offense, it’s made him more dangerous as a passer. He’s bumped his yearly attempts at the rim considerably (40-percent) and the efficiency has started to creep up as well (62-percent).
Post-ups that had previously gone awry against the likes of Payton Pritchard and and Tobias Harris have now become dominant stretches of play against Robert Covington and Jae Crowder. Less toe-tapping, more rapid rip-throughs. The return of the razor quick duck-in to his left made the spin to his right a gamble for defenders to sit on. Now defenders that had previously been riding that hesitation (and somewhat missing touch) to the tune of less stressful matchups, are shuddering at the slightest ripple in Siakam’s musculature. “What will he do? How can I stop it?” The bump in post-ups and proximity to the rim has made him a much more dangerous offensive rebounder, too. 4 ORBS a game is a heavy dosage (past 4 contests), and it’s backbreaking for teams when he finds VanVleet relocating for a triple when the defense is scattered.
He’s also been more willing to push into the open floor after grabbing a defensive rebound. And no one needs to make the case for why more transition possessions are good.
“He’s back to playing sort of the way we used to see him play, and that is creation, you know, getting to the basket, getting other people involved on some cuts and some kick-outs, etc. But just an overall gait that looks better. There’s some speed up the floor, there’s much better movement and connectivity on defense. Just playing all around like he’s capable of, or like we know him to have played prior. So, it’s good to see, really a bright spot on this trip for sure.” – Nick Nurse on Pascal Siakam after the Raptors loss to the Trailblazers
Siakam doesn’t playmake like Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet. It’s a rare sight to see Siakam probe the defense with a live-dribble. He was always a good reactionary playmaker for his position. Attacking in a straight line and seeing what cracks open up in the defense. Since he started making the starward leap though, the Raptors have started to run actions around him, and increasingly so this year. The danger he poses to teams from a standstill makes them eager to overhelp, and Siakam has grown measurably at picking out the advantageous spots for he and his teammates. He’ll bait a double team from the baseline to to open up the dunker spot, or from the top down to open up a triple. It’s not a coincidence that Siakam has been hovering around triple-double territory so often. Among bigs, he’s 93rd percentile in assist-percentage. And he’s not sustained by generating cheap assists either. He leads his teammates to the bucket or into an open jumper, rarely with work to do except hit the shot. He’s not a Sabonis or Jokic, but the roots of a primary initiator are there.
The combination of both of these types of creation in concert with Siakam’s other tangible skills makes for a major impact player. That’s the player you’ve been seeing these past few games, and it’s no small job to garner “best player on the floor” conversation when you’re sharing it with Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. Not to mention he’s been excellent defensively, but that’s another piece for another time.
Siakam has begun to make his case for a 2nd straight All-NBA team loud and clear. Missed game winners pale in comparison to the totality of Siakam’s game right now. Outside of Boucher, the frontcourt’s inopportune duck-ins to crowd Siakam’s space, bobbled passes that turn layups into turnovers and general performance have made things a great deal more difficult for the Raptors to navigate. The bench is searching for answers. But, Siakam has the cape out, and looks primed to become the best player on the Raptors not named Kyle Lowry for just the second time in 9 seasons.
Have a blessed day.