Opposing teams have a serious problem on their hands, and his name is Pascal Siakam. He's an energetic, enigmatic whirling dervish. It's easy to see why he's having a breakout year; his basketball IQ, footwork, and finishing are finally catching up with his unbelievable athleticism and motor.
This isn’t the first Pascal Siakam piece you'll read, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Siakam Stock is rising faster than it ever has before. Describing his 2018-19 debut as “great” feels like an understatement; he’s been truly phenomenal. His numbers - through 12 games - tell the story.
These are the stats of an ever-improving player, but the numbers leave out some crucial elements of his impact. His motor and athleticism combined with his finishing and defense are unprecedented to anything we’ve seen from him in the past.
Let’s take a peek into his toolbox and uncover the many reasons Pascal Siakam has evolved from a charmingly scary player to a legitimate problem for opposing teams.
Fast Break Fiend
Siakam is a track-star with a 7’3 wingspan. He's an absolute blur in the fast break. His hustle - and the Raptors’ passing - earns him a few free layups every game. A few layups become a handful of layups against teams unwilling to match Siakam’s pace -- just ask the Lakers.
It’s great that he runs his tail off, but his decision making on the break is even better. He’s always under control as he continuously makes the right play. What’s the best part about having someone who runs hard and shares the ball? It’s CONTAGIOUS.
Most fast-breaks start with defense. Whether it's a steal, a blocked shot, or a defensive stop, fast teams can turn every change of possession into a fast-break opportunity. This is exactly what Siakam and the Raptors' have been doing.
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These factors have combined into the Raptors enjoying one of the fastest, and most efficient offenses in the NBA so far. They're 3rd in fast-break points per game with 20.0 and 4th in total points per game with 117.4. No team is ranked higher than Toronto in both statistics.
This isn’t a surprise when you have Siakam running alongside gunners like Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet. The Raptors are a fast-paced team built for a fast-paced league. The perfect ecosystem for Siakam to thrive.
Siakam’s best tool is his speed and hustle, which has been evident since his days as the G-League Finals MVP just two seasons ago. So why is Siakam Stock on the rise so quickly? Well, his IQ, confidence, footwork, and finishing are starting to catch up with his unbelievable speed and hustle.
The Walking Mismatch
Siakam can guard all five positions on defense. On offense, he is a match-up nightmare. He feasts on smaller wings and whizzes by slow-footed bigs. He's far from the raw rookie we saw a couple years ago.
He’s reaching that echelon of player where the opposition needs to have a specific player on the floor in an attempt to contain him. Even when the opponent employs an appropriate match-up for Siakam, he has a wonderful way of finding a mismatch (an ode to his improved IQ). He’ll rip down a rebound and immediately push the ball. As the defense scrambles, a less able defender is occasionally forced to meet him at the perimeter.
As mentioned before, if it’s a guard or a smaller wing, Siakam will easily back him down from the elbow, Draymond Green style. His aggressiveness forces the hand of the defense to double-team him, foul him, or pray to the basketball gods that Siakam misses -- which he hasn’t done much of this year. His 63.7% field goal percentage is 4th in the entire NBA.
His post-spin-hook is becoming borderline indefensible, and a welcomed signature.
Can Siakam Become the Raptors’ Third Star?
Siakam’s game took an obvious leap this summer. It would be easy to call him Toronto's clear-cut third-star if it wasn't for the phenomenal play of Serge Ibaka.
There’s a good argument for Ibaka to rise as the third-star. He’s been really good this season. In his 12 games, he's averaging 17.4p/8.4r while shooting 57.6%. He is also a premier rim-protector.
Ibaka's numbers (apart from blocks) are at an all-time high and if he can sustain this pace he could be an all-star. On the downside, Raptor fans know Ibaka too well. He’s prone to stretches of great production and all-star level play followed by weeks of discombobulation. Head coach Nick Nurse and company are happy to ride Ibaka while he’s hot, but he's shown us that this level of play doesn’t usually last.
Ibaka Stock is still at a great value, but his game logs of the past can usher in some caution. Siakam Stock, on the other hand, is a definite buy and/or hold. There’s no reason not to be bullish on his potential. His success has been a steady ascension of consistent improvement -- not a tale of peaks and valleys.
What's Keeping Siakam from instant stardom?
The only knock on Siakam is his shooting. He’s taken 165 career three-pointers through 150 career games, making just 38 of them for an even 23.0% clip from deep. Luckily, Siakam's been getting extremely comfortable around the rim.
With at least five attempts from in-close per game, Siakam's interior finishing is fourth in the NBA behind JaVale McGee, Domantas Sabonis, and DeAndre Ayton.
Adept inside finishing doesn’t excuse poor perimeter shooting. That used to be the case, but not in today’s NBA.
Pascal’s three-point shooting has improved (7 3PA in his rookie year to 132 3PA his next season), but it’s the one missing piece to his almost-finished puzzle. This is the one aspect of his game that has lagged behind everything else. It's gotten better since his rookie year, but not at the same pace as his other skills.
Like many freak athletes, such as Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo, shooting is the last skill to be fully developed. Despite shooting 30.8% from deep so far this season, Siakam finds a way to make a substantial impact on the offensive end - a testament to his athletic ability and IQ.
His three-point % has increased from 14.3% in his rookie year, to 22.0% in his sophomore year, to 30.8% in this break-out year. It's a small sample size, but you can see him slowly starting to manifest into a reasonable threat from deep. He's not there yet, but if he's an absolute machine while shooting three-pointers below the league average (35.2%), Toronto will have a whole different animal on their hands once he's figured it out.
Despite the sub-par shooting, Pascal is the perfect kind of player for this era. He gives the Raptors an insane amount of versatility. He guards all five positions, plays at a blistering pace, and can serve as an energetic point-forward. He can lead a lineup or be a glue-guy, depending on the situation. He's the type of player that makes everyone around him better. It's no surprise that his +122 plus/minus is sixth in the NBA and we shouldn't be surprised if he stays in the top ten all season.
Siakam is off to the best start of any of his three years, and the Raptors are off to the best start in any of their 24 years. There’s never been a better time to be a Raptors fan; there’s a legitimate, palpable excitement for every game and we’re only in early November.
This is the best year of any for Toronto to make the Finals, and Raptors fans should be placing their bets on Siakam becoming that third-star to help take this lovable group to the promised land.