Toronto Raptors: The bench needs Pascal Siakam, but he doesn’t need it

Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors bench has been a major disappointment this season, thanks in large part, to the absence of Pascal Siakam. Right now, the bench needs Pascal, but he doesn’t need it.

There has been no bigger disappointment for the Toronto Raptors this season than the bench. After having the best reserve unit in the NBA a season ago, Toronto’s second unit has been consistently dreadful all year. They don’t have the same energy, playmaking, and defensive presence which made last year’s group was so special. They miss Pascal Siakam.

Early in the season, it wasn’t clear who would earn the starting powerforward spot. In fact, it was OG Anunoby who seemed to have the inside track. However, as Anunoby missed several preseason contests due to a death in the family, Pascal grabbed the starting position and never let go.

Siakam played so well to start the season, it was nearly impossible to move him back to the bench. Now, approximately half-way through the season, it’s clear the bench needs Pascal Siakam. He just doesn’t need it.

Pascal Siakam is playing at an All-Star level. It’s incredibly rare, but not unprecedented, to see a player as good as Siakam come off the bench. Manu Ginobili, Lamar Odom, and Andre Iguodala are three players who at the time, were as good, if not better than Siakam is right now. A more recent example, Lou Williams, came off the bench as the Los Angeles Clippers best player last season.

It’s been done before, but the idea of bringing Siakam off the bench is certainly bold. Pascal doesn’t seem too keen on the idea. Here is a quote from Siakam during his recent interview on the Lowe Post:

"At the beginning of the year I kind of was telling people I was kind of tired with the bench mob thing. It was cool for a year, and it was fun. That’s how I was known as, and we came in and we made life hard for the other team.  But for me coming in the next year, I didn’t want to have the stigma of like being a bench player. I thought about it a little bit and I think I said in one of the interviews before, ‘I just wanna play.’ And no matter where that is, but I don’t wanna be ‘Oh I’m a bench guy.’"

It’s hard to blame Siakam for being hesitant to change anything. Siakam is having a career year and is surpassing even the greatest of expectations set forth before the season. Switching to the bench might help the bench as a whole. It’s hard to imagine it helping Pascal Siakam.

Self-sacrifice, teamwork, unselfishness. These are all important characteristics. However, Pascal Siakam is a human being. And EVERYONE in life is worried about their role in the things they care about most. The players listed above were at very different points in their career than Pascal is right now.

Imagine being a top-chef for a 3-star Michelin restaurant and hearing you’re better off on the lunch crew. You won’t be viewed as prestigiously by others, your future earnings are damaged, and you probably don’t agree with the decision.

That’s what Nick Nurse would need to ask Pascal Siakam to do. Moving to the bench isn’t as simple as adjusting the rotations. Senseless or not, there is a real stigma that comes with being a bench player.  Asking your 24-year-old breakout All-Star to take that on, isn’t an easy selling point. From what Siakam has already communicated, it’s probably not one that would go over well.

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Siakam to the bench isn’t necessarily the best basketball decision. He pairs well next to Serge Ibaka, it would be hard to maintain his minutes, and he provides excellent defensive value with the starters. However, regardless of the on-court components,  it’s not just a basketball decision. Siakam clearly doesn’t want to be with the bench, and it’s hard to blame him.