Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard’s decision will impact Pascal Siakam’s role next season

Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard’s free agency decision will impact the entire NBA. It will also impact Toronto Raptors’ forward Pascal Siakam and his role on the team next year.

The Toronto Raptors are patiently waiting for the start of free agency on Sunday. Hopefully, they will get some clarity on whether 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will re-sign with the team or leave and sign elsewhere. Leonard’s decision has the possibility of shaking up the landscape of the NBA. His decision also could affect Pascal Siakam and his role on the Raptors next season.

Siakam is coming off an impressive season, earning the league’s Most Improved Player Award. His increased scoring and defensive abilities made him the second-best player on the team behind Kawhi.

He is far from a finished product, and his developmental path as a player hinges on the Klaw’s decision to stay in Toronto or leave. Some aspects of Siakam’s game will need to improve based on the choice Leonard makes, and his workload might change as well.

If Kawhi Leaves…

If Kawhi does decide to leave Toronto and sign elsewhere, Siakam will now become the number one option for the Raptors. As the main option, the ball will be in his hands a lot more than it was this past season.

Siakam will be looked to as the primary scorer, requiring him to create his own shots and command the ball when the team needs a bucket. Even though this would be new territory for the Cameroonian born player, it’s something he got a little taste of last season.

Last year Kawhi played on only 60 games in the regular season due to injuries (and “load management”). For those 22 games he was out, Spicy P stepped into the role of the primary scorer.

In fact, he dropped a career-high 44 points against the Washington Wizards, a game where Leonard wasn’t playing. 22 games is a small sample size, but Siakam has shown that he can handle being the primary option for Toronto.

Keep the mindset that Leonard is gone Siakam would need to work on his ball-handling and off the dribble moves. He has a decent handle for a power forward but is far from “point forward” material.

Siakam should hone his post-game moves as well. He showed glimpses of what he could do in the post last season, but there is always room for improvement. If scoring on the inside is going to be his bread and butter, he would need to add some counter moves in his game.

Siakam was skilled enough and surprised many with his inside game last season, but now teams will know it’s coming. If he can become an even better post threat, he can also work out of the post as a passer.

Siakam’s playmaking and passing would need to get better in this situation. His assists totals have improved every year he’s been in the league. However, if the ball is in his hands even more next season, he’ll need to take another developmental leap.

Nick Nurse already has shown that he has confidence in Pascal’s playmaking, running the offense through him at different points during the season. With defenses being more focused on him now that Leonard is gone, Siakam will have to make quicker, smarter decisions when running the show.

Defensively, Siakam already took the toughest assignments on most night. However, when the team needed him most, Kawhi Leonard stepped up and took Giannis Antetokounmpo. Siakam won’t have a bailout next year.

If Kawhi Stays…

If Kawhi decides to stay and re-sign with the Raptors (which everyone in Canada is hoping for), Pascal’s role won’t change much from what it was last season. He will still be the second option behind the Klaw, which would allow him more time for his game to develop.

Let’s remember, that he just finished his third season and is 25 years of age. However, with Kawhi staying, some aspects of his game will definitely need to improve, particularly his shooting.

Siakam’s outside shooting will be a focus for him this offseason and it should be emphasized even more if Leonard returns to Toronto. Even though he increased both his field goal percentage and three-point percentage, his shooting stroke still needs improvement..

Last season, 61.9 percent of Siakam’s points came from in the paint. Only 17.5 percent came from three-point range, and only 3.1 percent of his came from the mid-range area. He clearly didn’t feel comfortable taking the jumpers off the bounce.

As the season progressed, defenders realized this and dared him to take that shot. If he can develop a solid mid-range shot, he and Kawhi can have a dominant combination of pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop offense.

That three-point shot of his was effective, but primarily from the corners. Last season Siakam shot 39-percent from either corner (the shorter three-point shot) and just 27-percent from above-the-break.

On the defensive side, Leonard can handle guarding the opponent’s top scorer, but depending on the position and physical measurements, Siakam might be called upon to handle that assignment as well. Siakam also may be required to take the “grittier” matchup on most nights, if Kawhi needs a break.

Developmental Path

Kawhi Leonard’s free agency decision will determine Pascal Siakam’s developmental path as a player coming into next season. If Leonard leaves, it would require Siakam to develop more as a ball-handler, shot-creator, and playmaker. His game as a whole would need to take a leap forward, as he will be the best player and the primary option for the Toronto Raptors.

If Kawhi stays with the Raptors, Siakam’s focus would be improving his shooting from the mid-range and three-point line. Other areas of his game would need to improve as well, but with Kawhi there, he can be more patient with developing those areas of his game. He wouldn’t be looked to as the primary guy which doesn’t force him to develop his game as quickly.

Next. You play GM: Decide the fate of the Toronto Raptors offseason. dark

Siakam already had the mindset that he wanted to improve his game during the offseason and become an even better player than he was last season. He has specific areas he wants to work on, but depending on Leonard’s free agency move, his offseason development might change because his role on the Raptors might change as well.