Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam’s first season as franchise star a success

Regardless of postseason results, Pascal Siakam’s first season as the face of the Toronto Raptors should be seen as an undoubted success.

When Kawhi Leonard left the Toronto Raptors in the summer of 2019, the team was left with a void left to fill. Leonard had just lifted the Raptors to their first-ever NBA championship on the back of a historic postseason run where he averaged 30.5 points per game on an unreal TS% of 62-percent. It was up to Pascal Siakam to fill that void.

An unfair task in some ways, but the expectations were not set as high as they were for Leonard coming in one year earlier. Siakam was voted as the NBA’s Most Improved Player one year ago after averaging 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game in his breakout season – he was rewarded with a huge extension set to kick in next season: a four-year $130 million deal with extra incentives on the side.

The Raptors’ ambitions were clear: they still wanted to make the postseason and thought they had the roster that was ready to make another deep run. The team possessed talent from top to bottom, had an ambitious and intelligent coach, and was a well-run team. Everything was in place.

Siakam would need to make the jump to star, though. In the 2018-19 NBA season, his jump shot made improvements but was still a clear weak point in his game – a fact that was no more evident than against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals when Brett Brown had Joel Embiid guard Siakam.

Embiid neutralised Siakam’s ability to drive to the rim and forced him to turn into a jump shooter. The result was four games with under 40-percent shooter from the field. Siakam still got his points, but his impact was significantly lessened.

To take the next step, he would have to improve in that regard. And he did.

Not only did Siakam become a competent shooter, but he also did it in volume too. In 2018-19, Siakam took 2.7 three-pointers per game at a 37-percent clip. This season, Siakam knocked down 36-percent of his threes at 36-percent per game while taking double the attempts.

The jury would still be out on Siakam, though. He would have to be the main provider for the Raptors on most nights. Kyle Lowry was still an elite floor general, but his game was more emphasised as a creator and facilitator. He could step up in scoring, but Siakam was still the main option.

In the first quarter of the season, Siakam was on fire. He had back-to-back 30-plus point games to start the season before going on a tear up until missing 11 games after going down with an injury against the Detroit Pistons in December.

Siakam was every good as he was imagined to be by Raptors fans. He looked smarter on offense and just as active on defense, and considering he was the Raptors best defender in 2018-19 – that’s pretty darn good.

The Raptors are simply a better team when Pascal Siakam is on the court. Their net-rating is better when Siakam is on the court and the team scores more points in his presence. He currently sits in the top-25 in Player Impact Plus-Minus and earned his first-ever All-Star selection this year – and was even a starter, joining the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James in the honour.

Siakam is the star of the team and has averaged 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game in the 2019-20 NBA season. His field-goal percentage has gone down, as has his TS% – which lingers around league-average, but Siakam is a productive nightly scorer and will likely be the best player on the team next season.

If the season resumes and Siakam has a chance to show his skills on the grandest stage, he could be in an even better position. For now, he has a real chance to make an All-NBA team this season and his star keeps on rising. His first season as the face of the franchise is an undoubted success.