The Whiteboard: Pascal Siakam is taking another leap for the Raptors

Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

Pascal Siakam has taken another leap, adding to his offensive game and giving the Raptors an offensive engine they can rely on.

At the end of last week, I collected one key stat for each NBA MVP contender but it seems I may have made a mistake in leaving out Pascal Siakam. Through seven games, Siakam has never been better — averaging 26.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, on a 56.7 true shooting percentage — for the 4-3 Toronto Raptors.

Siakam is 28, a former All-Star and has been arguably the best and most essential player for the Raptors the past three seasons. But to start this year, he’s taken his game to a new level, carrying more offensive responsibility than we’ve ever seen from him before.

Siakam has had the ball in his hands a career-high 5.9 minutes per game so far this season, about the same as De’Aaron Fox, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Dejounte Murray. His increased scoring is one of the most obvious upshots but what he’s doing as a passer and facilitator is perhaps the most important change.

Pascal Siakam is handing out assists like never before

A lot of his assists are coming in transition, instantly pushes after a defensive rebound or quickly turning a turnover or loose ball into a fastbreak. But Siakam also been incredibly composed in the halfcourt, working against set defenses and manipulating defenders to the benefit of his teammates. Watch how he uses his dribble here, patiently, to move Joel Embiid just enough to create a passing window to Scottie Barnes.

Or how he patiently absorbs two separate double-teams here, protecting the ball until the opening for Scottie Barnes appears.

It’s a testament to how dangerous he’s become as an on-ball threat that so many of his halfcourt assists have gone to shooters whose defenders are completely turned, focused only on Siakam with their backs to their assignments. According to NBA Court Optix, he has been double-teamed on a whopping 28.3 percent of his possessions and the Raptors are averaging 1.38 points per possession in those scenarios — the best mark in the league for any player who has been double-teamed on 13 or more offensive possessions per game.

This is all an offshoot of his ever-growing on-ball prowess. Siakam is averaging 15.1 drives per game so far this season, another career-high, and more than Anthony Edwards, James Harden, Antetokounnmpo, Kyrie Irving or DeMar DeRozan. And this development has all come within the Raptors system, rather than disrupting it. Siakam is also averaging 1.4 secondary assists per game (a pass that leads directly an assist), fourth-most in the league. His drives and passing are all connected to his constant movement (he covers about as much ground on offense per game as Steph Curry or Devin Booker) and often a defense-bending pass ends up back in his hands several actions later.

The bulk of Siakam’s offensive production still comes from exploiting advantages — in transition, playing off Toronto’s other creators, thriving in chaos and relentlessly seeking open space when the ball isn’t in his hands. But we’re seeing Siakam creating more advantages this season than ever before.

Toronto has the talent for a deep playoff run and the overlap in physical tools and skill sets has become a running joke — seemingly all long, mobile, athletic wings and forwards who can defend, pass and put up points off the ball. But what they appeared to be lacking coming into this season was that singular creator, an individual offensive engine who could keep things humming when just having all those arms rowing in the same direction wasn’t enough. Fred VanVleet and Siakam did their best to fill that role in the past but both still seemed overmatched at times as an offense-scaffolding primary creator.

Siakam looks better equipped than ever to fill that role and it could make the Raptors a dangerous threat in any playoff series.

Subscribe to The Whiteboard, FanSided’s daily email newsletter on everything basketball.

Content from around the FanSided Network

  • Cal Durrett at Air Alamo on the release of Josh Primo and how it could affect the Spurs’ trade plans for later in the season
  • Jordanna Clark at Daily Knicks on Isaiah Hartenstein and the way he can complement what Mitchell Robinson brings at center
  • Jason Kidd’s rotations are … a work in progress. Tyler Watts at The Smoking Cuban explores the options for closing games

Check out the new The Step Back podcast, hosted by Ethan Skolnick and Brady Hawk

The Clippers and Nets both get much-needed wins

The Clippers and Nets both entered the season with championship aspirations but entered last night’s games a combined 3-9. With their backs against the wall, both teams pulled out key wins. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Nets nearly blew a 24-point lead to the Pacers but were able to come away with the 116-109 win.
  • Ben Simmons didn’t play because of a sore knee but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 64 points on 41 shots, adding 15 rebounds, 13 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks. Nic Claxton also had a huge game, finishing with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks.
  • Paul George did it all for the Clippers in a 95-93 win over the Rockets, putting up 35 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 steals and 2 blocks.

The Milwaukee Bucks are still the NBA’s last unbeaten team

The Bucks squeaked out a 110-108 victory over the Detroit Pistons, preserving their unbeaten record. How long can they go before taking their first loss?

  • The Bucks next five games are against the Pistons (home), Timberwolves (road), Thunder (home), Hawks (road) and Thunder (road).
  • According to FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model, the Bucks are heavy favorites against the Pistons and in both games against the Thunder, with odds of 70 percent or better of pulling out the win.
  • They are slight underdogs on the road against the Timberwolves and Hawks but still hold predicted odds of winning of around 45 percent.
  • Several key Bucks are still out with injury, including Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles. All are expected to be back this season but none are likely to return in the next five games.

Subscribe to our NBA daily email newsletter. light. THE WHITEBOARD