4. Siakam was making the leap
The Raptors have been a statistically elite team all season, but perhaps the reason they haven’t been taken as seriously as a contender stems from losing Kawhi Leonard — their best player and Finals MVP — and Danny Green in the offseason. Most assumed they’d still be one of the better teams in the East this year but not a true threat without the Klaw.
Maybe those assumptions will ultimately hold true, but no one can deny how Pascal Siakam has risen to the occasion in Leonard’s starring role. While he’s still not the player that Kawhi is, Spicy P is an undeniable two-way force who has elevated his game to the role of franchise star.
Last year, during which Siakam won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, he averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game on .549/.369/.785 shooting splits. While his efficiency (.459/.359/.800) has taken a bit of a hit with the increase in usage and offensive responsibility, Siakam has improved his production across the board, posting 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists a night.
In recent years, the MIP award has uncannily identified the next rising force in our league, guys who were capable of carrying franchises at an All-Star level like Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo. Siakam already looks like a worthy inclusion in that group, and based on his playoff heroics last year, he looks poised to carry the mantle as option No. 1.