Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam needs to find a way to beat centers

Pascal Siakam had a breakout season for the Toronto Raptors last season. For him to make a jump this upcoming year, he needs to find a way to beat centers.

In his third NBA season, Pascal Siakam took an unlikely jump which saw him crowned as the league’s Most Improved Player in the 2018-19 season. As the new starting power forward of the Toronto Raptors, Siakam took his offensive game to a new level, but there’s still a weakness in his game.

Siakam averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game in the regular season, which all come as career-high numbers. His ball-handling, finishing around the rim, and even his three-point shooting all took sharp upturns on consistency, with Siakam shooting 36-percent from three on just under three attempts per game.

Not only was he a supreme offensive player, but Pascal Siakam also proved his worth as the best defender on the Toronto Raptors. A team that featured the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol – who both have won the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Siakam cemented himself as a top 30 player in the NBA last season, carrying over his tremendous play into the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Averaging 19 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game, Siakam was the second-leading scoring for the Raptors – behind Kawhi Leonard – as they defeated the Golden State Warriors and captured their first-ever NBA title.

Two series before the 4-2 victory against the Warriors, the Toronto Raptors took on the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. A grueling affair where the Sixers took the Raptors to seven games before a Kawhi Leonard Game 7 buzzer-beater, it was the closest the Raptors came to elimination during the playoffs.

During that series, a noticeable trend reared its head. Pascal Siakam, despite averaging 19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in seven games, struggled at times against the Sixers. Most noticeably when matched up with Joel Embiid. A switch Brett Brown applied to take Siakam out of the game.

It’s no secret that Siakam’s jump shot is still a work in progress. While his game has stretched out to the perimeter, Siakam looks hurried when pulling up from deep, at times. Other times, he looked unsure of pulling up at all.

The main fulcrum of Siakam’s offensive ingenuity is his ability to drive to the rim, contorting his body in all sorts of directions. Along with that, he’s able to use his speed and strength to blow past smaller players.

That wasn’t the case against Joel Embiid. As a 7-foot center, Embiid doesn’t fit into the frame of a lumbering big man, incapable of keeping up with more agile players. The sheer presence of Embiid alone was enough to deter Siakam from driving to the rim.

Embiid sat home in the paint against Siakam often, knowing that when he picked up the ball at the elbow that his first instincts would be to drive to the rim. As we know, Embiid is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA right now. It did not end particularly well for Siakam.

When guarded by Embiid in the playoffs, Siakam averaged 36-percent shooting from the field on just over nine attempts per game. His reluctance to shoot from the midrange killed him, and you can bet that other centers around the league were taking notes.

Without a jump shot to draw centers out to guard him, Siakam could face a tough time getting to the rim on a consistent basis. There are no question marks around Siakam doing the business against power forwards to point guards and everything in between, but to really take his game to the next level he needs to continue to evolve.

As his handle improves, Siakam will be likely to take centers off the dribble and get to the rim, but he’ll still need to be able to add a consistent hook-shot to his repertoire. Team’s now have an idea on how to deal with a player as unique as Siakam. With Marc Gasol prone to take up a spot at the three-point line, teams will be more than happy to switch out their power forward onto him and let the center deal with Siakam.

This offseason will be a big moment in Siakam’s development. Adding a new chink to his armor could take his game to a whole other level.

Next: Who should partner Kyle Lowry in the Toronto Raptors backcourt?

A consistent jump shot looks to be the answer for Pascal Siakam this season, it also looks like it could well be on the horizon. Good things are ahead for the Most Improved Player in the NBA.