The impending unrestricted free agency of Fred VanVleet has created much discussion and thought throughout the Toronto Raptors fanbase. Considering VanVleet tops the list of successors to Kyle Lowry, the team has to decide whether or not they are willing to match whatever offers come his way this summer. If the Raptors do end up moving on from the man who has become Stephen Curry’s worst nightmare, there would unquestionably be a hole left to fill. While Kyle Lowry has yet to show any signs of slowing down, he is 33 years old, and turning 34 in March. We can’t expect this type of production to continue throughout the “Pascal timeline,” as that would be unrealistic and unfair.
So who is next on the list? Terence Davis has shown phenomenal amounts of talent and potential, but I would rather see him as a high-end shooting guard that can make plays. There is always the draft to search, as well as free agency, but for a while, I have theorized something a little bolder, with a bit of an experimental edge to it (which just so happens to be a defining trait of Nick Nurse). I believe that the concept of Pascal Siakam playing point guard has intrigue, and is something worth looking into, or at least worth trying in small stints.
Throughout his career, Pascal has shown a relatively impressive tendency to pass the ball and find his teammates to make quality plays. This ability (along with his defence, hustle, and scoring deficiencies) had earned him comparisons to Draymond Green at one point. Someone that many fans were hoping Pascal could become half as good as. While it’s safe to say he has already surpassed that, could Siakam’s skills translate to the role of being the primary ball handler a couple of years down the road from now? The simple answer is yes, and the reasoning why has been developing in front of our eyes for years.
Plays such as the one above have shown us his ability to find what his teammates are creating for themselves off the ball, which is something that comes in handy when running plays. For example, this happens to be one of, if not the best aspect of VanVleet’s passing game. It allows the passer to effectively execute plays. Plus, a pass like that is tougher to make than it may seem. Then you have cases like the clip below. Though Pascal did not begin as the ball handler, he had set a screen for Lowry which essentially put the opponents’ focus on Kyle. Siakam then received the ball back, and while an overwhelming amount of players would try to go against Thon Maker (which Siakam could have done), he without hesitation found an open Serge Ibaka.
However, Siakam’s playmaking goes a bit beyond that and has some traits that can help him surpass a player such as VanVleet in terms of effectiveness. The primary one in question would be his gravity. Pascal has become one of the deadlier scorers in the league, and even on off-nights, he can command an amount of defensive attention that just shows you how much respect he’s gained in this league. This allows him to create plays for teammates with ease. His gravity in the play above had dragged Ibaka’s defender towards him, allowing for that great look.
Below is a better showcase of his ability to do it off his dribble. Having the slightest step forward on his defender, he drives to the basket while Serge’s man makes a conscious effort to hold down Ibaka and his basket. While it isn’t uncommon to see a player try to draw a foul here, albeit Siakam being one of them in many instances, he sees the window to Ibaka and could not have gotten the ball there at a more perfect time. Had he waited any longer it would have been a tougher pass to make and receive. Had it been any shorter it would have been snuffed out in time by a Bulls team that is competent on defence.
Timing is very important for playmakers, something that often goes unheralded. I feel it’s best recognized in football when someone such as Josh Rosen often has the right idea of where to put the ball but waits too long to get it there. This gives the defence more opportunity to figure out what is happening. If it’s a rushed pass, then forced errors to occur. The same general logic carries over to basketball, and damn near any other sport I can think of. This play against the Milwaukee Bucks is a better example of Pascal and his excellence in this regard.
Using his gravity, he captures the attention of Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, and to an extent, Khris Middleton who is also focused on Danny Green. Pascal knows he won’t be able to get Danny a good shot or get it to him at all, so he goes as far down as he can before darting it back to Serge. If he had waited any longer he would have probably lost control, but if it was any sooner Eric Bledsoe would have been closer to Ibaka. This is also a great display of vision, as Siakam uses his previous knowledge of who was transitioning in which spots up the court, and that there were four Bucks defenders already focused on something else meaning that Serge would likely be open.
This type of court mapping is one merit that separates the Chris Paul’s and Kyle Lowry’s (not to say that Spicy P will reach that level) from the majority of the pack. It gives them an edge to better dismantle defences and exploit the slightest mistake in any defence. This is another great example. Driving straight into four Pistons, he knows Jeremy Lin and Lowry himself will be accounted for too soon. Logically, having seen those two and Danny Green, someone would have to be coming near the top, with no one defending them. That just so happened to be Marc Gasol, and while he was not anticipating this pass, he still made the most of it.
I could go on and on, but I feel that the point is clear with his ability to move the ball himself. With that being said, point guards can go beyond “pass assist, pass assist.” They are floor generals, meant to orchestrate the offence in theory. That can be done without handling and passing 24/7, and the man who I think Pascal compares to the most (in terms of style, not quality) is someone who embodied that fully. Kevin Garnett. Many are aware Garnett played the “unofficial” role of point guard in some moments, and there are those who believe he could have played it full-time with the right work and transitioning.
Garnett’s playmaking was more so orchestrating as opposed to the frequent passing. That’s not to say he never handled or passed the ball, though. In this possession, Garnett is handling the ball, bringing a menacing Marcin Gortat out of the paint. He passes it off to Rondo who passes it back. However, this is designed for Garnett to screen Rondo’s man a little as he hands it off, not only taking a defender off Rondo but giving him a step ahead of Gortat who was drawn out due to Garnett, allowing Rondo to get a nice easy layup.
Now, Garnett brings the ball up court to the right corner allowing everyone to position themselves. He brings it to Rondo who he screens for alongside Ray Allen, as that accounts for their 2 defenders plus Rondo’s. He then works around the screen while also collecting a fourth defender. Theoretically, had Paul Pierce stayed in place or faked his way back to the top he not only could have received a better pass but would have been in the place for a better shot as his switched defender had been a little drawn towards the rim. Take a look:
Though I could go on about Garnett, I wanted to use him as an example as an orchestrator. The offence here runs throughout him, and very well too. However, having another ball handler is important in this specific concept, which could concern some as Pascal is the PG here. Luckily, the presence of someone such as Terence Davis at shooting guard could be perfect. He has shown to be a threat from all over who can create shots for himself and others, and he should only be getting better.
This mixed with the more orthodox point guard style is something Pascal is more than capable of. The case for this goes beyond film too, as there are some numbers to support this.
Before his breakout season, Pascal attempted a whopping total of 10 possessions as a PnR handler. All in 2017-2018. Next season that would skyrocket to 65 possessions (0.1 a game to 0.8), while he would place in the 96.7th percentile of handlers for efficiency. Small sample sizes, but encouraging nonetheless. We are now at a point where it’s 144 possessions (3.4 a game) halfway into the season. Although he has dropped to the 39.5th percentile (which is only 0.6 below Jrue Holiday). However, once you add in a context such as adapting to the heavily increased workload it becomes more understandable.
This season, amongst forwards to play at least 30 games, Pascal ranks 21st in assists, third in secondary assists, 18th in potential assists, and 21st in potential assists. Not bad for a player who ranks third in time of possession on his team while also being the primary scorer while 2-3 others are more focused on passing. When you factor in players above him in those passing numbers, such as Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan, they’re in positions where more playmaking is required of them.
Logically, these numbers would increase for Pascal as the point guard. The film we’ve reviewed showed he has the tools to do it. It’s important to note this isn’t something he should just be thrown into, though. More so a thought that should be explored, and something that could have a tremendous payoff. Even if VanVleet does stay, having Pascal at point guard opens up many new opportunities for different lineups and matchups.
Ever since the rise of Draymond Green half a decade ago, we have heard tons about how different players could move to the point if they wanted. Typically players such as Giannis and LeBron. Well, though this type of conversation hasn’t been as big, Pascal Siakam is a name that deserves to be mentioned. So if VanVleet does leave, the replacement may be right in front of our eyes. A capable mismatch nightmare on both ends of the court.