Toronto Raptors: Regardless of Kawhi, the future is bright with this young duo

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

The Toronto Raptors have made it clear that re-signing Kawhi Leonard is their top priority this off-season. Whether Leonard decides to stay in Toronto or not, the Raptors’ future is in good hands.

Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors are both 25 years old. Typically in the NBA, players enter their prime at around age 25 or 26. Once a player hits 30, their body will slowly start breaking down. Players start to lose some of the athletic advantages they once had.

This is, of course, is different for every player. It depends on position played, minutes played, injury history, and skill-level, among other things.

In any case, Siakam and VanVleet are still very young. As long as no major injuries derail their careers (knock on wood), they each should have at least another five years of prime-level basketball left to play.

Siakam and VanVleet are already two of the most important players on a team that just won an NBA championship, as they continue to develop, they could become more important to the team.

Pascal Siakam

Pascal Siakam is now officially the league’s most improved player, winning the award at the NBA awards show after year-end. The award recognizes Siakam’s improvements made during the regular season. However, his postseason play is what was most remarkable.

During the playoffs, Siakam averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game. Just one year prior, he put up seven points, four rebounds and just under one assist per game in last year’s playoffs.

Siakam’s development as a ball handler, shooter, passer, and finisher gave the Raptors a brand new offensive weapon this season while he continued to make a significant impact defensively.

Siakam averaged just under 17 points per game during the regular season, and was also able to increase his scoring average in the postseason, even if it was only by two points. Even keeping his production level would have been an accomplishment, considering he was being guarded by Jonathan Isaac, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Draymond Green during the postseason. – some of the very best defenders in the entire league.

Siakam has proven he can be the second option on a championship team, and if he continues to improve, – specifically at shooting the ball – there’s no reason he can’t be the Raptors’ number one option sometime down the line.

Fred VanVleet

The fact that Fred VanVleet actually received a vote for Finals MVP this season is one of the most unbelievable things that he accomplished during these playoffs, especially considering how the postseason started.

He struggled somewhat during the Orlando series. However, it was the next round where he really fell apart.

Against Philadelphia in the conference semi-finals, VanVleet was nearly unplayable. He couldn’t make a jumper and couldn’t get his shot off inside the paint due to Philly’s tremendous size. The series went seven games and he scored 14 total points – going scoreless in two of the games.

His first three games of the conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks looked like more of the same. But in Game 4 FVV snapped out of it, scoring 13 points and going 3-3 from the three-point line.

He then saved the Raptors’ season in Game 5 in Milwaukee, hitting seven threes, including the go-ahead dagger with just over two minutes left in the game. VanVleet was able to turn his season around exactly when the Raptors needed him the most, and from that point on, he was spectacular.

In the finals, he guarded Stephen Curry for much of the series and did a good job. He capped the season off with a 22-point performance in the series-clinching Game 6 in Oakland.

VanVleet, much like Kyle Lowry, is not a gifted athlete and is undersized for his position. He’s forced to find creative ways to get open shots and plays with calm, focused tenacity. While he’ll always have some limitations, the Raptors have found their point guard of the future.

Working together

Siakam and VanVleet are great players individually, but they also work extremely well together, both on and off the court.

"“We joke all the time but he’s literally my favourite player in the NBA. He’s my favourite player to watch. I love playing with him,” said VanVleet about Siakam."

Players like Siakam need a competent ball handler to get them the ball and to run with them in transition. In the half court, whether it be in the pick and roll or when he posts up, Siakam needs a guard to play off of, and VanVleet is the perfect match.

VanVleet is an elite three-point threat, and when double teams come to Siakam, VanVleet knows exactly where to be. When Siakam dives to the rim or cuts to the basket, VanVleet gets him the ball on his way there.

It’s hard to find players who complement each other as well as Siakam and VanVleet do. It’s even harder to find two that are the same age.

They both benefited greatly from having veterans like Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol playing alongside them this year, and with most of the Raptors’ core projected to return to the team next season, they’ll continue to grow as a unit.

Naturally, Raptors fans are focused on Kawhi Leonard right now, but even if he decides to move on this summer, the Raptors are in good shape. Masai Ujiri has masterfully assembled a team of both veteran leaders and young talent. The Raptors can win now and develop for the future at the same time.

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As long as the Raptors can retain VanVleet and Siakam moving forward, and pair them with complementary pieces, the Raptors will be competitive for a long, long time.