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Pascal Siakam Season Review

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The following is part of Raptors Republic’s pieces reviewing the seasons for the Raptors. You can find all the pieces in the series here. You can find a French translation of this article here.ย 

The past year has been a rollercoaster for Pascal Siakam. From rampant trade rumors, a coach-player rift blown out of proportion, shoulder surgery, and now all the way back into the cozy confines of All-NBA status. In one of the most difficult positions a player can be put in — asked to provide heavy creation with very little spacing — he showed significant resolve in how he handled, not only each and every on-court possession, but the waves of media and fan backlash outside of that.

For those who have watched Siakam with a close eye, it was no surprise that Masai Ujiri championed his star in his exit interview: “That’s who you want to go to war with, to battle with. I’m proud of him.” What Siakam has gone through should illicit these types of responses. The fresh faced, late first round pick has transformed into a stoic and perceptive man. Never eager to accept heavy praise, and conscientious in the way he accepts constructive criticism. A consistent theme of every single Siakam presser: he doesn’t care if you think he’s the best player in the world, or the worst one, he’s just trying to be the type of player he and his loved ones are proud of. Under this approach, he had the best year of his career.

It took Siakam awhile to get back into the swing of things after hitting the lineup in early November. The process was fairly good from the moment he stepped back on the court, he had obviously been watching film to evaluate the spots on the floor he should be pursuing. But, this is a player who would end up isolating more than virtually every other player in the NBA over the course of the season, and closed out on more shooters than anyone else in the league.

Process can be quite fickle when you’re asked to do so much. So, for a time, Siakam spent more time screening and trying to play second fiddle to newly minted All-Star, Fred VanVleet. And that went quite well, while he was trying to get his feel for the game back in check. He cut out pull-up threes, he spent more time rebounding the ball, and he leaned hard into defense after underwhelming a little bit upon his return. All of that worked, but it wasn’t the full picture of who Siakam was as a player. He was still extremely important to winning games, but he hadn’t yet recaptured the off-the-dribble verve that spellbound so many defenders and unleashed his potency as a scorer.

Siakam captured impact before venturing off to find his stardom. The way back from injury looks different for a lot of people, and this was Siakam’s. He did find that stardom, though. What followed was by far the best stretch of Siakam’s career, and a stretch that hasn’t ended yet, as it carried over into the playoffs.

Munching on the fruits of his labour, Siakam undid every scouting report that was thrown his way. The pull-up jumpshot he’s worked on for years gave him the counter to pack-line defenses that denied him the paint. The grueling Tampa year helped provide him with answers for doubles (which he received at a top-10 rate leaguewide) whether that was as a scorer, or a facilitator. And his resolve kept him driving to the bucket through cracks that ants might categorize as too small. Bigs were too slow, wings and guards too weak, and even the defenders who used to give him fits in the past were out of their depth trying to handle him. Stopping Siakam is objectively a team-wide problem to solve, and every teammate who he shares the floor with benefits from that.

Defensively, his role was as exhaustive and all-encompassing as ever. Siakam is a rare mix of length, explosion, and stamina. The NBA’s minutes per game leader, closeout leader, and isolation leader. How many players have the juice to do all of that stuff? He is the perfect problem solver for a defense that gambles itself into huge wins and huge problems.ย The Raptors pull off the corners, peel switch, x-out, and fly around the court. No one does so with more purpose in that scheme than Siakam. He was an effective help-side rim defender, terrific stepping out on switches, and always capable of disrupting actions as a roamer. It’s no surprise that the most memorable defensive plays in clutch time often involved #43.

When the Raptors made their mad dash to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference and away from the play-in tournament, it was Siakam putting on star performances night after night. OG Anunoby injured, Fred VanVleet injured and missing an ungodly amount of shots when he was in, Gary Trent Jr also missing heaps of shots. Tuning into a Raptors game post-All-Star break meant tuning into see what, if anything, could stop Siakam from succeeding. Zone defenses, doubles, pack-line, gapping, all without a shred of spacing. Somehow, he managed.

Long gone are the days where Kawhi Leonard donned the Raptors colours, and even Kyle Lowry’s brilliance faded before moving to Miami. No one creates anything for Siakam, but he would accept the help if it came. Is Scottie Barnes the player who lightens the load? Is it someone we haven’t thrown in a trade machine yet? It’s tough to say. But, it isn’t tough to say that Siakam has stamped himself as good enough to wingman any star in the league. You don’t have to be an MVP to be rare and valuable in the NBA, and Siakam continues to prove that. He’s a guy you go to war with.

Have a blessed day.

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