— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 4, 2022
9th Annual Giants Of Africa Gala ✨ pic.twitter.com/z8kdPVAm2l
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 5, 2022
OG Anunoby tonight:
The only player with 400 PTS and 45 STL this season. pic.twitter.com/wLqN9ZCSzw
— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 4, 2022
What is Scottie Barnes’ role on this team? Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby and Fred (VanVleet) seem to have their roles fairly defined at this point. Gary (Trent Jr.) as the primary scorer off the bench looks like a good fit. Even Chris Boucher has a clear role. But Scottie? Not as clear. Also, what should it be? — Jeff F.
The Scottie Barnes discourse is treacherous these days, and with good reason. While I thought he’s had some good moments this year, it hasn’t been the start to the season that anybody wanted. His performance in New Orleans was the least impactful game I can remember him playing as a Raptor. That he did it a game after coming off the bench, and seeming upset about it, is disappointing. (I don’t want to go too far in assuming Barnes’ strange cadence when being asked about coming off the bench against Cleveland meant he was irate about it. First of all, as a really talented player, he should want to start. Secondly, I’ve heard him talk in that manner often. It usually just means he’s uncomfortable, not necessarily that he’s angry.)
To your question. On the one hand, being on a team with so many good players is nice for Barnes. He gets to add a little bit of everything at his own pace without being force-fed 30 pick-and-rolls per night like, say, Cade Cunningham. On the other hand, he’s not being force-fed 30 pick-and-rolls per night. He is a secondary option in many facets — as a perimeter defender, as a screener, as a ballhandler. It was concerning that he didn’t find a way to assert himself in any of those areas during Siakam’s absence, and some of that is on the player.
Some of it is on the coaching staff, too. This is an isolation-heavy team, but their style doesn’t need to be quite so extreme. With Barnes’ vision, I’d love to see what he could do catching the ball on the roll and making decisions in four-on-three situations. He’s used a grand total of six possessions as the roll man this year, after using just 51 last year. (He has set 99 ball screens for his teammates, per Second Spectrum, well behind Christian Koloko, Thad Young and Chris Boucher as the team leaders. The Raptors haven’t been very efficient when Barnes sets a screen this year, to be fair.) I’d love to see him moving off the ball more. Defensively, I’d love to see him at the front of presses. I’d love to see him playing with VanVleet and without Siakam so he can be a co-primary option offensively. I’d love to see him get some opportunities to attack a defence from the opposite side.
Barnes has to want that, though. The reality is that Siakam is one of the best offensive players in the league right now, and the majority of the Raptors’ offence should run through him. Barnes needs to show the energy he displayed last year, keeping balls alive on the offensive glass and pushing the ball in transition, and cut out the five-dribble 18-foot jumpers. He doesn’t have a straightforward role, but he’s playing a ton of minutes on a good team. It’s on him and the coaching staff to marry the needs of the present with what’s best for Barnes and, by extension, the team in the long-term.
That’s never easy to do, but that’s the job.
Siakam, who began his career as much more an athlete than a basketball player, has moved into fifth place on the all-time list of Raptors scorers.
With 26 points in Saturday’s 121-108 win over Orlando, the 28-year-old Siakam passed Andrea Bargnani and brought his total to 6,604, trailing only DeMar DeRozan (13,296), Kyle Lowry (10,540), Chris Bosh (10,275) and Vince Carter (9,420).
Not bad for a player who was unimaginably raw when the Raptors drafted him 27th in 2016.
“I think when we first got him, we were excited about his energy, his athleticism and things like that,” coach Nick Nurse said, “and his hunger to play. And I think that translated pretty quickly to hunger to get a lot better.
“He’s obviously had some ups and downs, like most guys do in their careers, and (he’s) come out of it here on the other side.”
Siakam — averaging a career-best 24.2 points on 49 per cent shooting from the field, and 35 per cent efficiency from three-point range, in 13 games this season — has arrived at this point through sheer hard work.
“It’s hard to find a trajectory like that in the league, and he deserves a ton of credit for that,” VanVleet said. “It’s pretty hard to guard. There’s not many guys that can guard him one-on-one, so he’s developed into an incredible offensive player.”
It’s all well and good to talk about the vaunted Raptors developmental system and point to the Cameroonian as proof of its effectiveness, but if he didn’t put in thousands of off-season hours working on his game no “program” would have helped.
“We put the work in and always have that belief, and I’m willing to do everything that I can to be the best that I can be, and that’s an everyday thing,” Siakam said.
He is what he is because he’s driven to be the best.
“I have goals for myself, and I know if I put the work in I can achieve them, and that’s all I’m looking at,” Siakam said, unaware he’d climbed to No. 5 on the scoring list Saturday night. “I just want to continue to grow, and wherever that puts me that’s what I’ll take, because I know I put the work in.”
Since the day he arrived in Toronto, Siakam has been on a mission to improve his skills. Now, he has to rank as one of the best Raptors ever. He was a key member of a championship team, has twice made all-NBA and, really, is still in the infancy of his career with much to prove.
“What we’re seeing from him this year is putting him pretty high on the list; we’ll see how that turns out in the playoffs,” VanVleet said. “I think we all are spoiled now since we won a championship. We hold everything to that (standard). So if he can lead us in the playoffs with that same incredible performance, he’s going to keep climbing and he’ll have a heck of a case at the end of his career.”
And that’s when Siakam will take stock of where he fits all-time.
“It’s continuing to climb … make sure you want to continue to go up — whatever that is, whatever that means,” he said. “I don’t know where that’s going to go. I want to get better, improve. I don’t want to stay the same.”
Stats are one thing, legacy quite another as Siakam’s ascension and name recognition continue to evolve and improve.
It’s too premature to delve into the ‘all-time great’ conversation, but the baller known as Spicy P has come a long way in his six-plus years in Toronto and has already earned his place among the organization’s top players.
And barring some major injury or unlikely deal involving Siakam, there’s every reason to believe this one-time rim-runner and energy presence coming off the bench has the potential to set all kinds of team records.
Of the four Raptors still ahead of him on the team’s career scoring list, no player has the overall skill set of Siakam who is, in many ways, a self-made player.
DeMar DeRozan was not known for his defence and was generally more miss than make from distance.
Vince Carter had the most explosive talent, but he caught up in the off-court politics, agenda and ego that led to his departure. Had he played longer in Toronto, his scoring numbers would never have been matched.
Chris Bosh was the franchise face, even though his game was better suited as the second or third option, a role he excelled at when teaming up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Both DeRozan and Carter will be Hall of Famers. Despite what Raptors apologists would have you believe, Kyle Lowry is a borderline Hall of Famer who was once traded to New York before the Knicks nixed the deal.
Siakam excelled in the role of second option in 2019 when Kawhi Leonard lifted the franchise to its NBA title.
But he is the primary option on this Raptors unit, a role and responsibility he will embrace for as long as he remains in Toronto.
Head coach Nick Nurse, who has seen first hand the work Siakam has put in over the years, was asked post-game Saturday if he saw the day when Siakam would rise to such lofty scoring heights.
“Probably not,’’ said Nurse. “He’s done a lot of work.”
Siakam’s ball handling skills are much improved as is his court vision. He can shoot from every spot on the floor, attack the rim and defend. In other words, there’s nothing he can’t do on the court, though the one area he can refine involves a consistent knock-down jumper from distance.
Off the court, it’s hard to glean what kind of leadership qualities Siakam has and the cache he wields inside the room — especially with Fred VanVleet currently occupying that role.
Siakam has played five games since his 10-game absence with a strained adductor muscle, looking more comfortable each time he has stepped on to the floor.
In Saturday night’s 121-108 beatdown of the Magic, Siakam played just less than 31 minutes, scoring 26 points by taking an economical 15 shots. His 10 dimes were a game high, he would add eight rebounds and make all seven of his free throws while yielding only one turnover.
On Monday night, the conference-leading Boston Celtics come to town for their first hook-up of the season. And unless the Celtics are completely out of sync, Siakam and the rest of the Raptors will be challenged much more than they were against Orlando.
Fred VanVleet knew Pascal Siakam could score. Two college games against one another had proven that much. But just how good could the then 21-year-old New Mexico State star really be, VanVleet wasn’t quite sure.
Siakam had no distinct role when he first arrived in Toronto, this unorthodox 6-foot-9 forward selected with the 27th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. As a rookie, he’d open games with the starters only to disappear into the bench when crunch time rolled around. As the season wore on, his role all but evaporated. He played in as many G-League games following the All-Star break during that season as he did NBA games.
But then something clicked. It was October 25, 2017, as VanVleet recalled, the fourth game of Siakam’s sophomore when everything changed. Siakam had started hot that night on the road against the Golden State Warriors. He was getting his bread-and-butter buckets in the paint when DeMar DeRozan suddenly through a kick-out pass to Siakam above the arc. To that point, Siakam had made one total NBA three-pointer in his career. The Warriors seemed to know it. Siakam tried to keep the ball moving but Steph Curry slid into the passing lane leaving Siakam all alone. He had no choice but to let it go.
Two possessions later, DeRozan found Siakam in the corner. This time there was no hesitation. Siakam caught the ball and let it rip, nailing his second three-pointer of the game.
“That was the day we knew this was gonna be a $100 million guy,” VanVleet said Saturday. “You could just see it. And once he started to put it together after that, the rest is history.”
Just over 6,000 points later, Siakam now sits fifth all-time in Raptors scoring, having eclipsed Andrea Bargnani on Saturday night as he reached 6,604 career points in Toronto.
“This is a testament to, I mean, his skill level and his talent, but the work he puts in and just the relentless attitude and just how far he’s grown,” said VanVleet who signed with the Raptors as an undrafted free agent the same year Siakam joined the team. “It’s hard to find a trajectory like that in the league and he deserves a ton of credit for that.”
In his seven NBA seasons, Siakam has developed from a rim-running, high-energy bench player, to a secondary scorer on a championship team, the league’s Most Improved Player, an All-Star, and a bonafide All-NBA caliber player. He set a goal for himself this season to become a top-five player in the league and while he’s not there yet, he’s not too far away. He’s one of just two players alongside Luka Doncic averaging at least 24 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists per game this season.