Fan Duel Toronto Raptors


Will Pascal Siakam’s 3-point Shot Return to Form?

The climb back to average would be a rewarding one.

Pascal Siakam is shooting under 20-percent from three. It’s a staggeringly bad number, and he’s been mired in a terrible stretch of shooting where — wow, crazy to write this out — over the last 15 games he’s shooting less than 10-percent from downtown. 4 made shots out of 52 attempts over the last 15 games. That is nightmarish.

Of the 128 players in the NBA who attempt 4.1 or more 3-point shots a game, Siakam is shooting the worst percentage by some measure. You can find a handful of players who are shooting less than 30-percent (most players who take a lot, make a lot, or at least a healthy amount), but there’s only 2 that are shooting less than 25-percent: Siakam and Scoot Henderson. It’s been bad.

Siakam is still the biggest motivator for halfcourt offensive success on the Raptors because of his driving game, his status as one of the best frontcourt playmakers in the NBA, and the fact that he’s been a top-3 post-up player in the world so far this season. However, things could get a lot better, very quickly, if he just… hit 3-point shots at the rate he’s been hitting them for the 5 seasons prior to this. That rate? 34-percent across 1330 attempts.

Conventional wisdom is that 3-point percentages stabilize around the 750 attempt mark. Siakam’s first 718 attempts from 3? He made 240, which comes out to 33-percent. The 751 most recent attempts before this season started? 241, which makes for 32-percent. So, we have these big, helpful sample sizes with a pretty small range of outcomes – and we have what appears to be an outlier slump happening right now.

I started sorting Siakam’s career — post 2017-18, where he put up one of the worst qualified 3-point shooting seasons in history — by 15 game spurts and I couldn’t find anything remotely close to this sub-10% stretch. To finish last season he went on an 11-game run of around 21-percent. Most 15 game samples that you pluck from his seasons are around the low-to-mid-30’s, which makes heaps of sense given that, that’s his average. There’s a high water mark of 45-percent, and for 15-game samples you can get as low as around 22-percent. All this to say, we are basically in uncharted territory with the slump that’s currently happening.

Is Siakam taking harder shots? I can’t conceive of any stat that would suggest that, and poring through the film doesn’t suggest that either. Just combing through with tracking data since 2018-19, you’ve been able to set your watch to a wide-open Siakam 3-pointer to fall into the rim at a rate of roughly 34-37%. The open attempts go in less often, but even those have dropped in the bucket in the high 20’s over the last 5 seasons leading up to this one. Siakam has never been a high volume shooter from downtown against tight or very tight contests. In fact, in the 7 years of tracking data before this season, Siakam had never registered a 3-point attempt against very tight defense. This year, he’s taken one, and missed it. He’s just, inexplicably, shooting roughly 15-percent worse than expected on wide open 3-pointers.

Quietly, amidst all this, Siakam is having the best mid-range season of his career. 47% in the short mid-range, 52% in the long mid-range, and doing it on heaps of pull-ups and with a lot of tough contests. I can’t comb all the stats to support this, but I’ve talked to lots of scouts and shot doctors who have mentioned how difficult it is for two-motion jump shooters to succeed in both the mid-range and from downtown. Siakam is thriving while swerving around contests, stepping back against them, and finding his center and hitting the mid-range jumpers with mostly his upper body. From the shoulders up, using touch, getting the ball to fall in.

His 3-point shot seems more truncated than ever. Finding the quiet finish at the top of his jumper in the noisy mid-range has been his forte this season. In the quiet, undisturbed land outside the 3-point line, Siakam has produced a jumper with a lot of variance. He’ll miss long, short, left, right – wherever. The arc will change drastically from shot to shot. Sure, Scottie Barnes — another wing who is trying, and my god, succeeding in elevating his 3-point shot — had a 3 game stretch where he went 2-15 from downtown, but his misses were good. They were consistent, they were close, you could see it would come around. He’s shot 43-percent on 5 attempts per game since that little slump.

It’s, admittedly, very difficult to judge jumpers by their aesthetics. Sure, some mechanics lend themselves towards more dynamism and can especially affect which way a player likes to pull up, but as far as catch-and-shoot stuff? Go with the numbers. Always with the numbers. Lots of players succeed with wonky looking shots. I can try and plug into the scouting network and lean into some classic scouting wisdom about two-motion mid-range shooters, their correlation with catch-and-shoot threes, whatever. But, that’s not concrete or compelling.

The point is that what’s happening to Siakam is confusing. For him, as well. Every time a three drops in, he raises his hands to the sky, almost as if he’s in prayer. There’s no answer. At least not one anyone might say on record. Just gotta keep getting ’em up. You have to trust in the massive sample of jumpers that led Siakam to this spot, and hope it turns around.

Siakam’s impact on the offense is profound. He’s why they score at the rim. He’s why they get into the paint, every correlation by the numbers says he can help elevate good offensive lineups and can carry bad ones. The offense is 10.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, and that’s one of the largest swings in all of the NBA. However, with Siakam on the court the Raptors take 31-percent of their shots from behind the line. With him off the court? They take 41-percent from there. That is the largest single player swing in the NBA. Nuts!

I prefer analysis to be mostly about process. I think Siakam’s process has been pretty good this season, and there’s a reason why the Raptors are still so utterly dependent on his presence offensively. However (comma) Siakam can be better than he is now, and should be better than he is now. Which doesn’t mean he’s bad, or anything like that, he’s still very good. He’s just not as impactful as he could be. The job of a max player is to be an overwhelming source of impact, and Siakam’s 3-point slump is what’s putting a chasm between very good and overwhelming.

One just has to hope that it turns around for Siakam. He’s a gym rat, he has a team that doesn’t just kind of need his shooting to be passable, they really need his shooting to be passable. If he were shooting north of 30% from three, it probably doesn’t change how defenses guard him, or play off of him to crowd driving lanes or anything like that – but it would just… mean he and the Raptors would score more points. Because, at that point, he would be the passable 3-point shooter he has been for years, instead of the worst 3-point shooter in the NBA on meaningful volume. I’m very happy that Siakam has been an unbelievable hub via the post. The Raptors rely on it a lot, and Darko Rajakovic looking to establish Siakam there more often has correlated heavily with the Raptors rising efficiency on offense. It’s okay for a slightly archaic form of initiation to be his calling card, but it can’t be all he has. It’s absolutely imperative that Siakam turns this thing around.

It’s also a contract year, and like any NBA player, Siakam has to maximize his earning potential while he’s earning like a top end NBA player does. When Siakam pens his next contract — whoever that’s with — he’ll be 30 years old. Whoever signs him to that contract will be doing so with a clear understanding that some sort of athletic decline will factor in during the duration of the contract. As those things pop up, the skills that are less dependent on Siakam’s explosiveness and bend — like shooting, for example — will be a focal point of discussions.

Gone are the days where Siakam was hitting more pull-up threes per game than c&s; and at 34-percent no less (2019-20). Gone are the days where the talking points are about how Siakam came to basketball late in life, and that his jumper will keep improving for years and years. It stagnated, and that’s okay. It’s not okay for it to fall off the cliff never to return, though.

For the record, I think Siakam figures it out.

Have a blessed day.