Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam’s success will go as far as his shooting takes him

Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Pascal Siakam is a player that is good in nearly every aspect of the game for the Toronto Raptors. Although shooting was never one of those fortes, Siakam has shown he can be one of the league’s best players when he shoots the three at an efficient rate.

Pascal Siakam, to the surprise of many, took the league by storm with his MVP-caliber play at the beginning of last season for the Toronto Raptors. What allowed him to get to that level in the first place was the high percentage he was shooting the three at. A rate that would slowly regress and that would see him dwindle down in the MVP race as the season went on.

The first regression came when he suffered a groin injury against the Pistons on December 18. Siakam would go on to miss 11 games and it took some time before he found his shot again — he’d still play at an elite level, just not as good prior to the injury.

Then came the bubble, where Pascal Siakam looked like lost everything he had going for him in the season before the pandemic — not just talking about his shot here, many areas of his game suffered. It’s definitely worth noting that Siakam did not have access to a gym during the quarantine so that didn’t help his case.

Now that the new NBA season is upon us,  Pascal Siakam will be looking to undo the stain he got in the bubble. And I see no reason why Siakam wouldn’t be able to play at the level he was at when he was voted 5th in the early MVP race in December last season. 

But to get back to that level, Siakam has to get back to having a pretty good three-point percentage (or at least a respectable one).

The importance of a good three-point shot

In the first 27 games of last season, Siakam was taking almost 21 shots per game before he went down to injury against the Pistons — 6.3 of those shots were threes. He was the established number one option, and the team had a 19-8 record in that span. Siakam himself was averaging career-highs across the board.

  • Siakam’s per-game averages in the first 27 games: 25.1 points/8 rebounds/3.6 assists/45.2 percent from field/39.2 percent from three

The most important statistic here is the last one. 39.2 percent from three is exactly what elevated his game to the next level. It allowed him to maximize other areas of his game like his passing, and most importantly finishing at the rim.

Siakam’s biggest strength was always his elite finishing around the rim — shooting 71 percent in that area in the previous two seasons. However, because he was never the greatest shooter, that made defending Siakam much easier as they’d give him all the space behind the arc to force the shot out.

When you combine his near 40 percent three-point shooting with his elite finishing at the rim, then that would put defenders in a conundrum. It was no longer easy to guard Siakam. If defenders gave Siakam enough space, then he would shoot and score the three; If they played tight defense, then Siakam would just use his speed to get past you for an easy finish at the rim or to kick out to an open man.

After the injury, Siakam started shooting under league average (league average is usually around 36 percent), and that reflected in his overall statline. He wasn’t drawing the same amount of gravity on the perimeter with his shooting percentage going down, but he was still playing to his greatest strength.

Siakam was going to the rim at will and did so on high efficiency (70 percent). He may not have been as high in the MVP race, but it didn’t matter. He was still carrying the team and was definitely an All-NBA player still.

  • Siakam’s per-game averages after injury but before the season halt: 22.2 points/ 7 rebounds/ 3.6 assists/46.2 percent from field/32.2 percent from three

It’s when his three disappeared and he stopped playing to his strength did everything go south.

Siakam’s reluctance to play towards his biggest strength hurt him the most

This is was a problem in the bubble and especially against the Boston Celtics who lured him right into their trap. They know Siakam will shoot the open three if the defender gives him space, and that’s exactly what the Celtics did. This squandered many offensive possessions for the Raptors, while also taking away chances Siakam would usually drive to the rim to score or kick out to the open shooter.

Just look at the drastic change of his shot selection from last season.

  • Shots at the rim during before pandemic: 40 percent
  • Shots at the rim in the bubble regular season: 28 percent
  • Shots at the rim in playoffs vs Celtics: 29 percent

Siakam stopped attacking the rim and started settling for a lot more outside shots — he also posted up much more than usual which was a huge change to his playstyle compared to the beginning of the season.  I do understand that it is more difficult to attack the rim when players are giving you space on the perimeter. So players tend to be more reluctant to go to the rim and take the open shot (exactly what Siakam did), but that doesn’t cause the percentage to drop by 10-12 percent.

Moving forward, we know Siakam will always take the best shot available and we know he gets the coach’s green light as well. But he has to shoot it at a respectable rate at least, or else he’s hurting the Toronto Raptors team more than anything else when chucking away shots.

Siakam’s success is dependent on how good he shoots the three-point shot

There’s a reason Siakam was having such a heyday at the beginning of last season. Siakam would turn a lot of those open shots into baskets, and if they were guarding him too tightly then he’d beat the defender by finishing at the rim or kicking out to an open shooter.

Siakam doesn’t have to shoot the lights out. He will still be an All-NBA player even if he shoots at a respectable rate like he did last season (34-35 percent rate at least), but he has to also be willing to go to the rim at the same rate as he did before the pandemic.

Siakam has never been known for his shooting, so there will always be teams who decide to sag off Siakam on defense when he’s behind the arc. So Siakam will always have open shots to work within every game he plays.

Shooting at an efficient rate and remaining aggressive to go to the rim, that’s the recipe for success for Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors. Obviously, if he shoots as he did at the beginning of last season, that’d be great and there will be no doubt he’ll be running in the MVP race.

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Siakam’s dominant in almost every other facet of the game, so it isn’t rocket science that he’d enter the MVP race when he’s efficient shooting the most important shot of the game (the three-point shot).