The theory behind the potential Raptors-Siakam extension: It would take Siakam off the market before the trade deadline in February, as the Raptors wouldn’t be able to trade him for six months after the extension. However, he would become trade-eligible before the new league calendar begins on July 1. The difference? Now he is poised to become an unrestricted free agent in July. Perhaps trading for Siakam, already signed to an extension, would be more enticing to other teams.
For now, it’s a complete hypothetical. For one thing, Siakam and his camp would have to be open to such a deal. In the absence of getting a full-max four-year deal, why agree to any extension in which you do not control your future destination and start the deal being whispered as a trade candidate? Unrestricted free agency, from afar, seems like the more desirable proposition, although a lot of the teams (young and rebuilding) that project to have cap space might not be interested in maxing out a 30-year-old forward whose value is tied around being central to the offence. If Siakam and the Raptors trust one another, maybe there is a deal to strike.
Siakam is a huge piece for the Raptors, and still the player on the roster who most impacts positive basketball. Getting a significant return for him — assuming you do not believe he and Scottie Barnes represent a long-term fit, at least with the players and draft equity the Raptors currently have — is one of the most important things Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and the rest of the Raptors front office need to nail. If kicking the can down the road six or 14 months maximizes that, it is a path worth considering.
The danger is what happens in the interim. The Raptors do not have the ability to sell wins right now. They have been overwhelmingly healthy to start the year and have no discernible strengths. They have lost to a few of their peers recently, teams projected to be in and around the Play-In Tournament in the Eastern Conference that were decidedly less healthy than them. The Raptors (10-14) finally stopped that trend, beating the Hawks (9-14), who were missing their two starting forwards.
In the absence of many wins, hope is left. In Barnes, the Raptors have a potential star, a player they will probably sign to a long-term extension in the upcoming offseason. However, this year he is being mixed with a starting lineup that includes four solid-to-excellent players who have decidedly not coalesced into more than the sum of their parts. When he’s leading all-bench units, he is the best player amongst groups that lack shooting, ballhandling and passing. It would be surprising if more than one or two of the players on the floor with him in those lineups are in Toronto for the long term.
Heading into the opener of the Raptors’ two-game set with the Hawks, Siakam delivered an extended and very detailed description comparing losing to getting punched in the face repeatedly, noting blood, loss of consciousness, and the search for the mouth guard. It was graphic and seemed very unfun.
So try winning then.
More efforts like they gave against Atlanta should do the trick. Pick an element of the game and if the Raptors weren’t proficient at it for most of the night, they were at least able to rectify it as the game went on. As an example, after the Hawks shot 57 per cent from the floor in the first quarter, Toronto held the Hawks to 47.6 per cent in the second quarter and 39.3 per cent in the third. After the bench unit struggled in the first half, it was much better in the second half. And the starters, as a group, logged one of their better efforts in weeks.
The best sequence of the game had a little bit of everything. A block of a Trae Young floater by Jakob Poeltl led to a thunderous dunk by OG Anunoby on the other end where he almost hurdled Hawks centre Clint Capela. On the next trip, Poeltl blocked Young again — this time on a lob attempt — and Scottie Barnes finished a nicely executed fast break with a twisting left-handed finish while being fouled. But the sequence started with defence.
“Great reads by Jak, definitely there,” said Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic. “We had a couple of similar situations in the first half we did not pull the trigger and they got all the way to the rim … but when the game was on the line in the most important, crucial moments he did a great job and blocked two shots there …”
That helped push the Raptors’ lead back to eight with 4:57 to play after a pair of threes by Bogdan Bogdanovic had cut the Hawks’ deficit to two. Just to keep it interesting, the Raptors – who were up by 14 with 2:19 to play after a pull-up jumper by Siakam – did surrender a rapid 10-2 run. But when Siakam found Anunoby for a dunk to put Toronto up eight with 36 seconds left, the game was over.
Siakam did his part all night long as he finished with 33 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 36 minutes. Barnes had 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Anunoby had 22 points and three assists for the Raptors, who had 39 helpers on the night, their second highest total of the season.
The relief was palpable.
The Hawks established a commanding 12-point lead with about nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, but it didn’t hold. The game gradually tightened as the quarter concluded, with the Raptors consistently hitting three-point shots. Despite ranking last in the league in three-point percentage and averaging just 11.2 makes per game before this matchup, the Raptors made a significant impact, cashing in five three-pointers in the second quarter alone and accumulating eight made three-pointers by halftime. In contrast, the Hawks managed to make two three-pointers in just five attempts and were outscored by six in the quarter.
While the Raptors haven’t been known for their shooting prowess, the Hawks’ lack of size may have contributed to their success. Without Hunter and Johnson, the Hawks found themselves with a relatively small 1-3 lineup led by Saddiq Bey. A rotation of Young, Bogdanovic, Mathews, and Murray falls into the smaller category when guarding players like Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam.
Siakam briefly gave the Raptors a lead late in the second with a three-pointer, but Dejounte Murray’s response ensured the Hawks entered the locker room with the lead.
The game took a turn in the third quarter as the Raptors caught fire from behind the arc, and the Hawks had no answer. The Raptors shot an impressive 9-for-12 from three in the quarter, while the Hawks managed to make just three three-point field goals. While some may attribute this to an unlucky night, it’s worth noting that defensive contests were not strong at times.
Facing one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, there appeared to be little emphasis on preventing threes from being attempted. However, this has become a recurring theme. Opponents are shooting 38.3 percent from beyond the arc against the Hawks, ranking them fourth worst in the league in this category. Similarly, the Raptors allow 38.2 percent three-point shooting from their opponents. However, it’s challenging to sustain competitiveness in any quarter where your opponent makes nine three-point field goals, as the Hawks were outscored by ten in the third. Gary Trent Jr., averaging 1.9 made three-pointers per game, notably cashed in three in this quarter alone.
Pascal Siakam turns it UP
Maybe it was because he was playing against a team that has been on the top of the trade rumours list when it comes to his future, but Siakam was HOOPING tonight. He scored 33 points, seven assists and seven rebounds and shot 5-6 from three and 12-19 from the field.
He had 20 before the first half even ended and was really the only big offensive spark from the Raptors in the first half. He is the centre of all the Toronto Raptors trade rumours, and it’s just so hard to think of a version of this team, without Siakam, that isn’t in an active state of tank/development.
The Raptors late game run was truly aided by the fact that they started to play defence. Trae Young, after scoring 20 points in the first half, was held to nine points in the third quarter and six points in the fourth.
Obviously Anunoby was a huge factor in this as always. His stat line of 22 points, five rebounds, three assists, and one steal helped the Raptors on both ends of the floor.
Tonight was a good night for the bench, and especially from Gary Trent Jr. who scored 12 points. Coach Rajakovic mentioned after the game that he knows Trent Jr is a phenomenal shooter and trusts him completely.
Precious Achiuwa added seven of his own, and Malachi Flynn had eight assists despite not scoring any points.
While this definitely isn’t as much as the bench SHOULD be contributing (more Flynnsanity please), it’s games like these the Raptors usually end up winning. When the starters AND the bench contribute to offence, Toronto has a pretty decent chance to take the W, and tonight it went that way.
And Siakam’s play at the Scotiabank Arena on Monday showed what kind of game he’s capable of what he can do on nights when he’s hot.
He’s been a below-average three-point shooter this season, he had made just seven threes in 17 games going into the outing against the Hawks and was a miserable 21.2 per cent from beyond the arc on the season.
He promptly went out and made four of five long distance shots in a 24-point first half. He was 5-for-9 from inside the arc and two-for-three from the foul line in the opening two quarters.
The veteran forward had grown tired of Toronto’s losing ways and the toll it was taking. He told reporters Tuesday how it was wearing on him.
“There’s going to be times where it’s hard out there and you feel like you’re getting knocked down every time you go out there,” he said. “It feels like a boxing match where you get knocked down and everything. You can’t see nothing. You’re looking for your mouthpiece, trying to find anything on the floor. And the ref is counting, blood coming out of your mouth.
“And the thing about it is it’s going to happen more than once. So that’s a challenge.”
But as effective as the Raptors were on offence most of the night, the defensive woes that are threatening to derail the entire season despite it being only 24 games old persisted.
The Hawks do have the third most productive offence in the league, averaging more than 122 points a night before Wednesday, but there were points where Toronto simply made it too easy for the Hawks to score.
Losing three-point shooters with bad communication in transition and in halfcourt sets, not being able to stop the ball at the point of attack, not sprinting back when shots were missed: The Raptors failed at everything at different times.
“In my opinion, the most important thing is to contain their transition, not to allow them to score early in the shot clock, to be able to match up and then slow them down,” coach Darko Rajakovic had said.
“We’ll need all five guys on the court to work as one and to make it really hard on them and to finish possessions with defensive rebounding.”
Why else would the Toronto Raptors be playing a strange two-game set against the Atlanta Hawks just days before trade chatter is expected to pick up Friday? For months now, the Hawks have been the team to watch in trade talks involving Pascal Siakam. They reportedly made a serious offer for the All-Star forward in the summer and have remained interested in acquiring Siakam should Toronto ever actually make him available.
It was only fitting Wednesday turned into the Pascal Siakam show. The 6-foot-8 forward showcased his entire repertoire of skills and then some in a 135-128 victory over the Hawks. He carried Toronto the whole night until the Raptors finally clamped down on defense in the final minutes of regulation and iced the game at the other end.
A pair of Jakob Poeltl blocks forced the late stops the Raptors needed and an emphatic poster-worthy dunk by OG Anunoby followed by a nifty layup through contact from Scottie Barnes gave Toronto breathing room. Moments later Dennis Schröder nailed a mid-range jumper to put the Raptors up 11 and keep the Hawks at bay.
All night, though, Atlanta had no answer for Siakam who led Toronto with 33 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. He got into the paint with ease against Atlanta’s wings Wesley Matthews and Saddiq Bey and used his speed to beat Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu to the hoop.
Not that Atlanta needs more three-point shooting, but it certainly didn’t hurt that Siakam caught fire from behind the arc, nailing four of his five three-point attempts in the first half. He helped Toronto climb out of a double-digit deficit in the first half, somehow trading buckets with Trae Young on the other side.
Toronto’s problem once again was the defense most of the night. Part of it was Schröder’s inability to stay in front of Young at the point of attack, but throughout the lineup Atlanta had success. The Hawks shot 11-for-21 from behind the arc in the first half, tallying 66 points before the break.
When his game is on, Siakam is a slam dunk all-star capable of being a presence on both sides of the court. When he’s making three-point shots, he becomes near impossible to defend. Defenders can’t get into his body knowing Siakam will easily take them off the dribble and attack the rim.
When he’s nailing jumpers, defenders can ill afford to play off him because Siakam will release his shot with little contest.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, Siakam made a total of seven three-point shots in his past 18 tips. In the first half alone, he made four on five attempts.
Siakam hasn’t made multiple shots from beyond the arc since Nov. 1, when the Raptors ran the Milwaukee Bucks off the Scotiabank Arena court.
In fairness, Siakam has played his best this season when an opponent can’t match up against the veteran small forward. The NBA, after all, is all about matchups.
It’s the same reason why Hawks point guard Trae Young was able to put together an electric stretch in the game’s opening 12 minutes, when he scored nine points and dished off seven assists in helping the visitors take a 39-31 lead after the first quarter.
When he’s running the floor, pulling up in transition, looking assertive and decisive and attacking the rim, there shouldn’t be any reason why the Raptors can’t keep Siakam beyond this season or even beyond the next few months.
Until a clear message is delivered by the front office in terms of the direction it wants to forge, he’ll continue to be bandied about in rumors.
OG Anunoby also finds himself in this big unknown. To a much less extent, the same can be said for Gary Trent Jr., but he wouldn’t command the same kind of haul the Raptors would receive in a deal involving Siakam or Anunoby.