Pascal Siakam’s foul starts have been at the root of Toronto Raptors’ losses


It is a small sample size but there is no denying that Pascal Siakam is fouling too early and too often. And as good as he has been in six games this season, it’s like the Raptors’ offensive star is fighting uphill every night.

The foul totals are alarming — Siakam has been disqualified from two of Toronto’s first six games (both Raptors losses) and he has had at least five personals in four of the six — but the timing of the infractions is as big an issue. He basically took himself out of the first half of Saturday’s game in Milwaukee with two personals in the first 6:06. It was the same a week earlier in Boston when he had to sit down after collecting his second just 6:03 into the game.

In a perfect world, the Raptors would like Siakam to play most, if not all, of the first quarter of games. When he leaves early, it disrupts the regular rotation and often cuts into the team’s offensive flow, especially given the lack of depth in the front court, where coach Nick Nurse likes to rotate Siakam, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka through two big-man positions.

Siakam remains a bit mystified by the early fouls and knows he has to be more careful, and more diligent defending, than he has been.

“I might have to go to a couple of refs’ meetings or something like that,” Siakam told reporters after the Raptors lost to the Bucks in Milwaukee. “Maybe there’s something I need to learn or something I’m not doing right. … It’s not always easy to be (in foul trouble) and come back and have 20-point quarters and stuff like that.”

There isn’t really one issue that Siakam needs to correct. He commits fouls by not moving his feet quickly enough on defence sometimes, he reaches into plays he shouldn’t every now and then and he has a tendency to pick up at least one offensive foul a night either spinning into a second defender or driving too excitedly.

All of it is manageable but it’s a trend that needs to stop.

It’s impressive that Siakam has been so dominant offensively in so many of Toronto’s first six games, given he’s been limited in how long he can play some nights. He still leads the team in scoring, has had three games of 30 or more points and is shooting a career-best 42.4 per cent from three-point range.

Siakam is averaging 33.5 minutes per game but, given how Nurse is riding his starters so heavily — Kyle Lowry is playing 38.8 minutes a night, Fred VanVleet 37.8 and OG Anunoby 34.2 — the coach would surely like to have Siakam for four or five minutes more per night.

Siakam played 32 in Milwaukee and 35 in the loss in Boston, both games when he could have conceivably been looking at 40-plus minutes.

This foul blip is very likely just that, a minor imperfection on a rather blistering start to the season for the fourth-year player. Each time the Raptors have asked for more from Siakam, or he’s realized that he needs to alter or expand his game, he’s been able to do that. There’s no reason to think he won’t figure out why he’s being called for so many fouls.

But on a Raptors team still trying to develop some depth, especially in the front court, he can’t afford to watch long stretches of games early.

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He managed to score 16 points in Milwaukee despite not getting his first bucket until about midway through the second quarter, and rebounded to score 33 in Boston. But Toronto got off to slow starts in both games and couldn’t come all the way back.

Those starts might very well have been better had the team’s best player been able to play 12 or 14 minutes straight right out of the gate.

Doug Smith