If the Pascal Siakam narrative feels eerily familiar to a Raptors’ story line from last season, it should.
The Toronto Raptors are one season removed from a draft night trade which landed the Milwaukee Bucks 46th pick Norman Powell and a protected top-14 first round (2017-2019) draft pick. Tanking has long been a common strategy for franchises to capture potential star talent. But, rarely does a prospect outside the lottery, let alone a late second round pick offer instant gratification. Yet the defiant, serious Powell encapsulates the true meaning of ‘winning the lottery’.
Dwane Casey’s preference for defensive minded players and untimely injuries may have offered Powell the opportunity. However, the Raptors’ fan base knows the Pow Pow ascent was inevitable. Driven to succeed, the inimitable Powell simply made it impossible for Casey to keep him off the court.
Now with an unexpected, (for the most part unknown) 27th pick the Raptors’ republic is wondering if lightning has struck twice.
To be fair, the primary focus centered on what Masai Ujiri would do with the 9th pick linked to the Bargnani gift that finally stopped giving. Although not quite the interloper Bruno Caboclo was considered in 2014, Pascal Siakam was no less a mystery to most.
Post draft, I graded the Pascal Siakam selection B+. Obviously I was much higher on the pick than most. Granted I’d spent some time prepping for a draft prospect series. After reviewing the available data and a number of videos I compared Siakam’s ceiling to Bismack Biyombo with an offensive upside.
Where Siakam differs from Biyombo is his offensive skill set. Though he still needs to evolve in terms of his variety and shot selection there, are signs of his potential.
I’m higher on Siakam than most pundits. Again, with just 4 years of organized basketball under his belt his accelerated growth speaks to his natural talent, work ethic, and high basketball I.Q.
- Height: 6’10” (Basketball reference lists him as 6’9″ but all the predraft metrics listed him as 6’10”)
- Weight: 230
- Country: Cameroon
- Position: Power Forward
- Age: 22, 258 days
- Standing Reach: 8’11.5″
- Wingspan: 7’3.25″
- Max Vertical: 37″
- College: New Mexico State, sophomore
2015-16 NCAA stat line:
In his 32 games last season with New Mexico State the sophomore posted per game stats of 20.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 2.2 blocks.
ESPN ranked New Mexico State 117th, so the power forward’s stats should be considered with caution. However, Siakam was the best player on the Aggie’s squad and performed well against top competition. In the game versus 32nd ranked Baylor and facing future lottery pick Taurean Prince (12) Siakam scored 26 points, had 10 rebounds, an assist, 2 steals and a block.
Most analysts pre-draft warned of his limited offense and lack of experience. If I had to point to the one factor which impressed me during the prospect reviews it was his accelerated growth specifically in terms of shooting range and efficiency.
The most important stat is missing in the above basketball reference profile. In 2014-15 Siakam took just 16 shots outside the paint connecting on 3 for 18.7%. In 2015-16 he attempted 308 shots from outside the paint making 135 for 43.8%. That’s well over a 1,000% increase in attempts and a 25.1% increase in efficiency!
Considering the talent selected in the lottery portion of the 2016 draft, it’s also worth noting the number of categories where Siakam ranked in the top 10:
- Field Goals Made – 4th with 274 (Buddy Hield was 2nd with 301)
- Offensive Rebounds – 9th with 132 (ranked 13th in defensive rebounds)
- Total Rebounds – 8th with 395
- Rebounds per game – 8th with 11.6rpg
- Player Efficiency Rating – 6th with a 31.5 rating. Of note Jakob Poeltl was 9th (31.1), my favorite for the Raptors first pick Denzel Valentine was 14th (29.7) and Ben Simmons was 19th (29.0)
- Defensive Ranking – 4th (86.7)
- Defensive Win Shares – 2nd (3.4)
- Win Shares – 4th (7.8)
As for my early Bismack ceiling, plus offense comparison, you have to remember the Raptors were fresh out of the playoffs. In all fairness some of the videos probably influenced me as Pascal reveled in the crowd’s roar, akin to Biymobo at the ACC. Casey has likened him to former Raptor Amir Johnson (high praise). A host of others have offered a wide range of comparisons:
- More skilled Dennis Rodman (with a lower rebounding ceiling)
- Jordan Mickey
- Luc Mbah a Moute
Though I meant no disrespect by my initial assessment, I think Pascal himself provided the best answer:
“No offense to Bismack Biyombo, I’d rather be the first Pascal Siakam“
What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas:
Many Raptors fans got their first look at Pascal in his brief appearance in Vegas Summer League. In 15 minutes he scored 12 points snagged 2 offensive rebounds, added a steal, and was a plus 21. But, it was the non-stat related items that caught my eye. Running the wings to spread the floor, boxing out under the basket, and following a shot to position himself for an offensive rebound.
2016 Preseason stat line:
In 5 preseason contests Siakam’s per game averages are impressive. Sure he’s logged minutes versus other training camp invites, but he’s also faced the likes of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
- Minutes: 20.4
- Points: 7.6
- FG%: 54.8%
- Free Throws: 40%
- Offensive Rebs: 2.2
- Defensive Rebs: 2
- Total Rebs: 4.2
- Assists: 1.4
- Steals: 0.8
- Blocks: 1.2
- Plus/Minus: +3.2
Nose for the ball: Whether it’s knowing where to position himself for a rebound, when to leak out on the wing, passing to an open shooter prior to defense collapsing or cutting off passing lanes his instincts are razor sharp. Sure, he still speeds up the game at times and occasionally takes unnecessary risks. To that end, how many times have we complained about Ross or Valanciunas not doing those things even after years of film work and coaching? So, when you factor in Siakam’s natural feel for the game and ability to process complex concepts quickly it’s easy to understand the excitement.
Passing: The assists don’t jump off the page rather, you see the potential for Pascal to grow in this area. Notably, Ross and Valanciunas combined total assists is less (6). Every game there has been a heady pass made by Siakam, once again demonstrating that natural skill and instinct.
Effort/Motor/Energy/Passion: Biyombo fathered a Nation with these assets. Siakam also has them, but he accompanies it with a calm confidence that gives him a cool factor.
— Tamberlyn's Tip-Off (@TTOTambz) May 26, 2016
Ability to Guard Multiple Positions: Although he’ll need to add size and strength to guard front court players on a consistent basis I’ll direct you to Siakam’s two most appealing defensive skills.
- Cat-like Reactions/Timing: It may have thrown Siakam for a loop recognizing his first defensive assignment would be the lanky unicorn Kevin Durant. Unabated he welcomed the challenge at one point with a great block on Durant.
- Lateral Movement: If I had a dollar for how many times I’ve heard “he needs to work on his defensive slides this summer” I’d be a very rich lady. The fact that 6’10 Siakam is quick enough to do it to guards gives me shivers.
Overall Defense: His athleticism is never more apparent than when he’s on the offensive glass and utilizes his quick second jump to grab the offensive board. And although he’s spent time on the court versus back-up units he’s also been on the court with the Warriors Super 4, and the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Despite that, he’s never had a minus differential. .
- Like most rookies not valued for their shot or offense, Siakam is inconsistent. He’ll benefit from the Raptors coaches who have had success working with players to expand their range and fix any shot abnormalities.
- Siakam’s inexperience will present some obstacles. Conversely, not having to break bad habits is a positive, especially with his penchant for picking things up quickly.
- With Siakam’s quickness it’s more important for him to increase his strength than his bulk, especially with the NBA leaning toward increased pace and small ball line-ups.
- Further development of fundamental skills and building consistent habits is vital. As good as he is on the offensive boards, his success is more a result of his instincts and energy. If he works to improve his technique and how to utilize his length he could become dominant in an area he already performs well in.
- While his defense is his forte, he still has plenty to learn with regards to help defense
The Toronto Raptors signed Siakam through to the end of the 2019-2020 season on an extremely economical rookie-scale contract. The final 2 seasons have team opt outs. With salary caps soaring due to incoming TV money, the resulting effect is players like 30-year old Timofey Mozgov garnering 4-year, $64 million deals. At his best Mozgov produced 10.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks and not in the same season. Consider the beloved former Raptor Biyombo who signed a 4-year $70M deal. Biyombo just completed his best season with 5.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks.
Imagine if Siakam continues his accelerated growth and turns into anything close to what is projected for him.
Recent twist feels like Powell deja vu:
When I began writing this profile I was fully prepared to suggest tempering expectations and hoping the amicable youngster would follow a similar path to Powell. But, with recent developments, it seems the youngster may see minutes at the ACC far sooner than anyone expected.
Originally Siakam was expected to contend for minutes at the power forward and center positions. But over the past week it was announced Siakam is being primarily slotted in the small and power forward positions. This revelation makes for interesting water cooler discussion.
Asked if it was a difficult adjustment or causes any difficulty for him.- Siakam responded
“No, from the beginning I always said I guard multiple positions. For me, no it’s not a surprise. I’ll play wherever the team wants me to play. I think my ability to move my feet and guard multiple positions is definitely going to help me in that transition. ”
Pascal went on to say he is a quick learner, but is immersed in all the new elements. He says mastering the shot is matter of repetition and developing confidence.
Perhaps this decision came about due to necessity. Fred VanVleet appears destined for the 15th roster spot to ensure depth at the point. Now with Terrence Ross nursing an injury and the Raptors wanting to be cautious with DeMarre Carroll‘s minutes it highlights another roster hole at small forward. What that means is he has already impressed enough of the coaching staff to recognize his versatility on defense. The final 2 preseason games should offer some insight on whether Siakam will begin the season with the varsity squad or the Raptors 905.
Certainly this equation has me pondering all the different iterations of line-ups it could foster. If Casey elects to play another hockey reserve line-up could we see a Corey Joseph, Powell (or TRoss), Siakam, Patrick Patterson, and Lucas Bebe Nogueira line? Imagine the pace, athleticism and defensive upside that line offers. Or, remove Bebe, move everyone up one position with Ross inserted at the small forward.
Pascal Siakam’s story feels more like fodder for a movie plot.- his father’s love of the NBA and praying one of his 4 sons would one day be in the Association. Then mere months before his youngest son Pascal would recognize that dream, he was killed in a car accident.
As exciting as Pascal is on the court, he is equally engaging off it. Clearly he has a solid character which exudes humility, desire, and charm. This too, points to how successful Masai Ujiri and the brain trust have been at establishing the Raptors identity.
And maybe it’s cliche to say it, but it feels like he belongs here. But then again, I’m someone who believes lightning can strike twice!Follow @raptorsrepublic