The NBA season is a grind. It's not unusual to see teams and players see massive spikes in success and failures across a season as the amorphous landscape changes. The best teams can typically stay above it all, coasting along and managing to amass wins all the while. So too, are NBA stars capable of coasting along, winning minutes, amassing stats, and changing outcomes - even when they aren't at their best.
Pascal Siakam is a star. The list of players averaging 25-8-6.5 is so small it nearly fails to meet the criteria of a list. Very few players of his size initiate offense like he does, and even fewer provide value on the defensive end of the floor as well. He is versatile, talented, resilient - an All-Star and All-NBA level player. He is, however, in the midst of a difficult stretch of play. The NBA's minutes per game leader, now for the second year in a row; who is third in the NBA in miles traveled on defense, and shoulders a very heavy load on offense while being doubled 16th most in the NBA.
Over his last 11 games, the scoring is down by a decent chunk, the assists a smidge, and the turnovers have jacked up quite a bit. Some of this has to do with the emerging game of Scottie Barnes, and the backcourt tandem of Fred VanVleet & Gary Trent Jr. finding more of their scoring, but more than anything it has to do with Siakam's struggles to beat defenders with his first step, and in some cases, the defensive attention. Over his last 5 games, Siakam has made two layups as a result of beating his man with quickness at the point of attack. Everything else was the result of a slowed down post-up, a run out in transition, offensive rebound, or an assisted finish at the bucket.
Prior to January, Siakam was taking 30-percent of his shots at the rim, and 70-percent of them were unassisted. Pure creation by an overwhelming offensive presence. The offense has been good in some games lately right? Perhaps he's just off-ball and thriving? Well, his rim frequency has dropped to 25-percent since then. He's been less efficient, but yes his unassisted rate has leveled off to 53-percent. That unassisted rate hasn't cleared 50-percent since the 2018-19 season. He's being provided more looks than he has in a long time. However, getting to the rim with his own dribble, his own quickness, has been a major part of Siakam's star turn. Barnes and VanVleet in particular have done well to support him in other areas and help mask how much he's struggled on ball. His burst isn't quite there, and the attention still is.
"I think I’ve seen it all, feels like I have three people on me every time I drive or make a move." Siakam said earlier this week. "I’ll continue to work hard and there’s gonna be times when it’s not gonna look pretty, but there’s gonna be times where it’ll look different. I’m gonna continue to evolve and enjoy the process and commanding that much attention is a compliment. I take it and do my best with it every single day."
Over this stretch, he's only been taking one less shot per game, so where are these shots going? Where is Siakam's process taking him?