Raptors Cage

Pascal Siakam needs more touches

After suffering a terrifying tumble against the Trail Blazers and missing Sunday’s match-up with the Nuggets, Pascal Siakam made his return to the lineup and was very much needed for the comeback win against the Pacers on Wednesday. Indiana – like most teams this season – had no answer for him. Siakam finished the game with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block.

The Siakam stat I’m always most interested in is his FGA; field goals attempted. Siakam finished the night against the Pacers shooting 6/10 from the field, remarkably making it the 18th time this season he’s finished with a FG% of at least 60% or higher.

Wanna hear an unfathomable stat? Here it is: there are only six games all year in which Siakam’s been held under 50% shooting. What does that mean, big picture-wise? It means the only true shooting percentages (TS%) higher than Siakam’s 67.1% in the entire NBA right now (20 MPG+) are Rudy Gobert’s 67.2% and Steph Curry’s 67.5%. When you consider that Gobert is a Neanderthal with a 7’9 wingspan who takes 79.8% of his shots within three feet of the basket, and that Curry is literally the greatest shooter in the history of the sport – it says quite a lot about what Siakam has been able to accomplish this season.

So, why is he only taking 9.5 shots per game?

Well, he’s been somewhat a victim of Toronto’s riches. Leonard, Ibaka and Lowry all sport higher usage percentages (USG%) than Siakam’s 17.8% – making him the starting lineup’s fourth option. That’s no slight to Pascal. The starting lineup – which by all metrics has been one of the best in the NBA –  is just too crowded for him to be getting the touches he’s rightfully earned.

Siakam is never going to get the chance to try and take over a game with the starting lineup, not while Kawhi Leonard exists. That’s why I feel he needs more time as a first/second option off the bench. Maybe you’ve heard this argument before, and maybe you’ve rolled your eyes at it. I mean, the Raptors are already doing great, as is Siakam. So why mess with a good thing?

I’ll tell you why. Good things don’t always last in the NBA, and the Raptors should understand that by now. You must continue to evolve, or you’ll get worse.

That, and it’s becoming very, very evident that Siakam has evolved in a big way. Figuring out the full extent of his capabilities has to be one of the team’s biggest priorities for the rest of the season.

Star-level production, role player-level opportunity

Why can’t Siakam be averaging 20 points a night right now? I’m being serious.

Forget that he only averaged about 7 points last year. Forget that he’s a 27th pick, and that he’s already 24 years-old. Stop getting so caught up in how unprecedented it would be – he’s already shown a total disregard for precedent. Just evaluate the player that stands in front of us today.

He’s already a physical freak of nature even by NBA standards. Combine that with the DeRozan-esque stories of his will to improve, and you get this:

Look at all the incredible things he does in this one game. He rises up off the dribble and posterizes the 7’0, “2.9 blocks/game” Hassan Whiteside. He hits a quick-trigger triple over James Johnson (Siakam’s hitting 36.7% of this threes now, by the way). Twice he grabs a rebound, runs the break himself, and creates an easy bucket for a teammate at the other end. By the fourth, Miami is double-teaming him in the paint. It doesn’t even matter how swarmed he is – if he’s near the basket, he scores.

You look at a performance like this one against Miami, and you think to yourself “Wow, what a sign of great things to come”.

Then, you remember that he’s the third-most efficient starting player in the entire NBA.

And it’s at that point that you remember that he’s already been proven to confidently guard from 1-5.

All I’m trying to say with this is what Pascal Siakam has been trying to tell us: he’s already here. Those crazy plays he pulled off against the Heat? He’s pulling them off on a nightly basis, and he’s barely making any mistakes in the process. He should be getting more than 9.5 shots per night. Sometimes there comes a point when a role player forces his coach’s hand, and ultimately creates a bigger role for himself. Siakam is long past that point.

Crazy idea: Make him the Kawhi of the bench (for some stretches)

Honestly, is it that crazy of an idea?

Pascal should definitely remain in the starting lineup, but I do think there are too many stretches where the starters totally forget about him at the offensive end. That’s a waste of his talent and his time on the floor. In those instances I’d rather see Anunoby swapped in. OG may not be able to run the floor as well as Siakam, but he can at least bring a similar level of defence. Plus, I feel that some of OG’s best defensive play this season has happened when Kawhi has been there to draw most of the offence’s attention.

On the other hand, there is virtually no downside to giving Siakam the opportunity to be a first-option with the bench. It gives him the chance to prove that he can lead a unit by himself, and it gives the struggling bench a desperately-needed breath of fresh air. Remember, Siakam was an integral part of last year’s vaunted Bench Mob. Given all the ways he has dissected top NBA defenders this year, just imagine what he could do to other teams’ benches.

Again, he’d still primarily be a starter. I’m only suggesting to up his responsibility with the second-unit. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, and his performance this year seems to indicate that he’s ready for it.

What if Siakam isn’t ready for a bigger role?

Then we’ll find out that he’s not ready. Simple as that. Whether it be a stamina issue; other teams game-planning for him, or him just not being capable yet – I’d much rather find out now than find out later.

I have a lot of respect for Dwane Casey, but one of the things that always really bothered me was how he’d throw his season-long, rock-solid rotation into a blender immediately when things went poorly in the playoffs. It was great that he was trying to adjust, but it always felt far too late. Those adjustments are supposed to happen in the regular season, so you can figure out if they actually work or not.

With Siakam, Nick Nurse needs to stop trying to figure out what works, and instead try to figure out just how much of the load Pascal can handle. If that comes at the price of some of CJ Miles’ or Lorenzo Brown’s touches, so be it. It’s nice to see a team let their depth players shoot through their slumps, but the success of top-end talent will always be far more important than the success of depth. Siakam very well might be that top-end talent, and so it is essential that he be a major focal point of the Toronto Raptors going forward.

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