Pascal Siakam’s Exercise in Assertiveness and Stardom

It’s a hell of a thing to push through the difficult stuff. Pascal Siakam is a player who has drawn criticism for letting his grip hold on the offense wane from time to time. If teams load up, you pass out. If you’re spacing on a given play, stand in the corner. The ‘right play’…

It’s a hell of a thing to push through the difficult stuff.

Pascal Siakam is a player who has drawn criticism for letting his grip hold on the offense wane from time to time. If teams load up, you pass out. If you’re spacing on a given play, stand in the corner. The ‘right play’ a lot of the time, for Siakam. But, on a roster that’s stretched thin in shot creation, sometimes Siakam is asked to rise above the ‘right play’ and asked to make the dominant one. Against the Wizards, he answered the call.

In other games this season, if Siakam had started 1-6 from the field he likely would have tried to make more of an impact as a screener or an off-ball threat, but he pushed as hard as we’ve ever seen him as a primary option. He outfoxed the Wizards blitzes, kept the doubles at bay, and did it all to service his own scoring ability. The outcome of a possession rarely left his purview, and he powered through a slow start to transport himself to the free throw line and with 7 straight makes from the floor before halftime commenced, he buried the Wizards early.

Yeah, he’s really, I think, played the last few games really dictating, a good tempo and under control, he’s keeping himself kinda turned to see everything that’s below him, and working his way down and he really has a good feel for where everything is, what his matchup looks like, and getting to some good spots.” – Nick Nurse on Pascal Siakam

And to illustrate some of those reads, these clips:

Excellent use of the escape dribble to send the help away, and as soon as he found himself in single coverage again, he went straight to his shot-making package with no hesitation. It would be fair, and a fine play if he had passed to the open teammates – Fred VanVleet even had his arms up calling for it – but this is a player on the hunt. These types of plays are benchmarks of superstar players, and Siakam doesn’t do this type of stuff often enough to consider this a definitive part of his game, but these plays are incredibly impressive. 

The Raptors have been a team that’s relied on 3-point variance to swing in a positive way for them for a significant stretch of games, dating back to last season. Siakam allowed them to move away from the ‘by committee punish a defense’ approach that can coincide with dry spells, by simply operating as the offensive tide that lifts all boats. A better defensive team than the Wizards – although, they are in the top half of the league – would have thrown better defenders at Siakam. But most importantly, Siakam eviscerated an aggressive scheme that was eager to stop him. Sure, he had a nice 45 cut, and a flex cut for layups, but for the most part Siakam schooled whoever entered his sphere and did it by his lonesome. Utter control and dominance.

The 3-point shot still comes and goes, but Siakam has been operating as a release valve of sorts for the Raptors when teams clog up the middle. His progression in the mid-range has provided real value in the sense of ‘go get us a bucket’. In virtually all of these plays, the Wizards have multiple bodies in front of Siakam and properly positioned help elsewhere. Great shot-making.

The hallmarks of his game were still there, of course. High-level playmaking at his position, the perfect mix of finesse and bruising post ups on smalls who were switched onto him, and the jumper that has helped bolster the Raptors halfcourt offense since his return, and that continues to punish teams who pack the paint. Nick Nurse also said that he and Siakam had conversations about navigating that type of defense:

Pascal and I did talk about it, but just kind of playing a little more faced up or when he is backing down, remaining, looking at what’s in front of him, rather than so much turning and being surprised by somebody at the other end. He just kept working his way down but he had the vision of the spacing and the cutting and what it was all looking like and I think he controlled it well enough where they couldn’t – it was almost like they wanted to double but never really did. Because he was kind of controlling it, like he knew that if they came it was going right there to a shooter or whatever so they kept kind of staying home, and he made them pay for that with good composure.” – Nick Nurse

So, while Siakam has fit in next to the other players – spacing in set actions, screening, cutting when he can – as he works his way back from surgery and the long layoff, last night was a real glimpse into the heroics of his game. He makes plays for teammates out of the post, he spaces the floor to the best of his ability, and that’s valuable. But when Siakam decides to pressure the defense in this way, a way that is unique to him on the roster, that’s when he’s fully actualized. And that’s a version of himself that fans, coaches, and teammates want him to access a little more often. 31 points and a punishing defensive assignment for anyone who drew him. Siakam’s floor has been tremendous and helpful, but he pushed through a rough start and hit his ceiling against the Wizards.

Oh yeah, and he dropped what might be the best quote of the Raptors young season:

So, my brother, he has a kid, my niece. And usually I don’t like carrying newborns. I don’t know. They’re just so fragile. She’s like two months old, and I’ve been like putting off just picking her up because I’m like, I don’t know. And then yeah, yesterday, I picked her up, and yeah! And she peed on me. I don’t know. Maybe it was that. I don’t know, man. My brother was kind of laughing, saying, “hey, you’re gonna play well tomorrow.” So maybe it was that. – Pascal Siakam on his performance

Spicy Pee, or something like that? A joke perhaps?

Have a blessed day.