As I sat there, casually absorbing some statistical information, something had caught my eye; in wins, Pascal Siakam averages 25.0 PPG on a stellar .591% true shooting rate. In losses, those numbers spiral downwards to become 19.4 PPG on an abysmal .461% true shooting rate. While there was a stark difference in time played in wins and losses (914 more minutes across 27 more games in wins opposed to losses, to be specific), this is still something that really appealed to me. I had noticed a bit of inconsistency in Pascal, but what exactly was causing it? What were his primary struggles in year one of being the first option for this team?
Aside from the expected general learning curve such as adapting to opposing help defences, there were a number of observations I had made revisiting the film. Before I say anything, a good bulk of Siakam’s scoring is built off of his ability to use his physical talents to his advantage. Getting a step ahead of the defence, using his length to get the ball close to the hoop, pushing the defender closer to the net, using the body momentum of his defender against them, or combining most of these to use his signature spin-move (this is, of course, aside from his three-point shooting). He has formed a shell around himself where he has become reliant on this all, and when it doesn’t work the results are less than favourable.
This often happens in one or more of a few cases; exceptional help defence is provided, the defender is smart and playing very strong, the defender can rival most of his physical traits, etc etc. Some players who have consistently given Spicy P trouble this season are Ben Simmons, Al Horford, Giannis Antetokounmpo, De’Andre Hunter, Taurean Prince, and Maxi Kleber. With that being said, wouldn’t it be more interesting to actually see Siakam’s struggles with your own eyes instead of hearing about them? Yes, it would be! Cool, so let’s do that.
Here we see Siakam running off a Marc Gasol screen which leaves him matched up with the large and long Meyers Leonard. However, at the same time, Bam Adebayo is ready and positioned to do anything necessary to prevent Pascal from scoring while also managing to be in a position to keep Marc from getting an open three. Siakam recognizes this, and as a result, decides to jack up a long two which fails to even touch the rim or backboard.
When pressured like this, Pascal’s decision-making goes from calm, cool, and collected, to panic and uncertainty. This clip against the Indiana Pacers shows something similar; matched up with Doug McDermott, and tries to make him slip-up to create an easy lane to the basket. Fortunately, he was able to do so, but TJ McConnell was ready to contest any attempt close to the hole. Siakam notices this and then decides to go for a step-back mid-ranger. WIth 12 seconds on the clock by the time he decided, he could have passed the ball to Kyle Lowry who was in a better position to make something happen.
This play against Boston shows more of that panic, but with a different outcome. With Jaylen Brown on him, Siakam was struggling to get what he wanted as Brown was pushing Pascal back. He prematurely picks up his dribble and does his typical spin, hoping he will get an open hook-shot, but that’s not the case. When he realizes that he passes the ball away in a fashion so reckless that it would make Russell Westbrook at his worst blush.
Taurean Prince in this clip shows similar resistance as Jaylen Brown did, as he is using his middle-section to push back at Siakam so that he can’t get his easy basket. Spicy P immediately recognizes this and knows that he won’t be able to bully the Brooklyn forward, so instead, he settles for a turnaround fader. Like most of Pascal’s mid-range attempts, the outcome is not favourable to the Toronto Raptors. However, in all fairness, Jarrett Allen and Garrett Temple were attempting to trap Siakam where he was, and while there were ways to get the ball out none were particularly easy.
As seen by the shot chart below, mid-rangers have not been the most efficient shot for Pascal throughout the course of the 2019-2020 campaign. With many of those red spots looking a little more positive last season, there is hope for more improvement in regards to him being a three-level scorer.
Maxi Kleber was able to do everything and more than the Dallas Mavericks could have asked of him. Not only is he bigger, stronger, and longer than Pascal, but being in a position where he can’t use his speed, handles, or agility to truly abuse the underrated big man which leaves him at a disadvantage. Despite this he tries to spin, and, well, Maxi’s length does not allow for much success for the Raptors franchise player.
Well, at least everything was more promising here when a spin against James Harden gave him a quality look to drop it off the backboard, but another problem Pascal has had this season is making a full display in this GIF; inconsistent touch. Sometimes it seems Pascal only gets half of the job done when he gets the ball up, as he was able to throw it off the backboard but he was not able to do so with much calculation or coordination.
I’m sure you get the idea by this point.
With all that being said, I want to make it clear that this is not meant to diminish what Pascal has done. I think he is an amazing player who can continue to destroy any expectation set out for him (so much so I even wrote a piece advocating for his capability to play the point guard position). I just wanted to touch on some areas of improvement moving forward.
Fortunately, many of these issues will be ironed out as time progresses. Decision making, tunnel vision, inconsistent touch, I expect that these are all bound to improve, and given that each clip falls down to the same essential core disruptions, that gives me much more confidence (plus there is the arc of his whole development trajectory and work ethic to support this). However, not all of this falls completely on Pascal, and as a matter of fact, there’s is some room for encouragement and optimism in regards to how he will perform in the potential postseason.
In the clips shown above, as well as dozens of others excluded from this blog, there is not much ball movement from his teammates. They are often in positions where Pascal’s pass would be intercepted had he attempted to get the rock to them, and that does not really change. The whole system in these instances seems to be to just let him work inside and see what happens, and to the credit of everyone it does usually work. This is something I have seen many others notice as well, yet, that all changes in the clutch moments of the game.
That is when Nick Nurse and his players decide to get more experimental and make life easier for Cameroon native, and his .580% true shooting in these situations supports the notion. These couple of clips also manage to enforce this claim as well:
Everyone moves to one side of the court (plus VanVleet executes a vital screen), giving Pascal all the space in the world to do what he wants, which is nailing the dagger against New York.
Serge Ibaka cuts to the rim giving Pascal the option to dump it off, but when he doesn’t he seems to give Al Horford a little nudge instead which goes a long way for this Siakam bucket. Also, Lowry looked ready to take off somewhere until it was evident Pascal was 110% taking the shot.
Kyle Lowry setting a screen at halfcourt and Serge Ibaka relocating himself into an open position in case Siakam decides to pass back.
Of course, none of this is picture-perfect ball movement, but that is more than likely to change come Nick Nurse’s playoff creativity.
And guess who the “darkhorse” key to all of that is? None other than OG Anunoby. As the season aged on I had noticed an increasing amount of baseline cuts from the former Hoosier which Pascal would reward with a pass then turning into an assist. As a matter of fact, .219% of Siakam’s assists go to Anunoby, which makes OG the highest recipient of them on this team (to put this into perspective VanVleet is second in assists from Pascal with .162%). As more plays are run and ball movement increases, the two forwards will be able to mutually benefit off of one another and potentially improve their games for the playoffs.
On top of that, I have seen some argue that it isn’t too feasible for Siakam to get much more attention from defences than he has already received, making the postseason all the more enticing. If that is true then the increased movement of teammates would skyrocket the offence and would hold the potential to provide us with one of the most appealing Toronto Raptors runs to date (of course, it would be unbelievably difficult to top or even rival what happened last season).
None of this is set in stone, of course. Pascal and the team, in general, can go any which way in the playoffs, but to me, there is tons of reason to be excited if the time to finish this season ever comes around. In the event, it does not? Well, I don’t see why much of what I have said today would not carry over. Plus, with this long hiatus, which could become even longer, Pascal has all the time in the world to maximize his storied training abilities. He has shown before that while he improves with experience, he is more than capable of upping his play without being in an NBA game either.
At the end of the day though, with all this room to continue growth, we should all be very excited