It’s been a pretty rocky season for Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam.
On the court, his numbers are down pretty much across the board. He’s averaging just 20.6 points, a drop of over two points per game from last season, he’s shooting just 44.9% from the field and his 3-point shooting has tumbled down to 28.6% this year. Off the court, it’s been even tougher. He said he battled nagging injuries to start the season and then COVID-19 erased the first half of his March and cost him 10 to 15 pounds.
While most of this season has been forgettable for both Siakam and his team, the 27-year-old has shown some progress in one crucial area of his game: playmaking.
Prior to the season, the Raptors brought in assistant coach Chris Finch — now the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves — to help reinvigorate Toronto’s offence. One of the things Finch spoke about in his initial press conference with the team was his desire to make Siakam more of a dynamic playmaker. He wanted to use the attention opposing teams pay to Siakam to create opportunities for everyone else on the court.
In that sense, this season has been a success for Siakam. His assists per game have jumped from 3.5 last season to 4.6 this season and his 12.6 so-called “assist points created” per game are the most of his career and the 16th-best of any forward, according to NBA Stats.
Tuesday night was a perfect example of how far Siakam has come as a dynamic offensive weapon. Not only was he 13-for-19 shooting, the most efficient game of this season, but he tallied seven assists against the Atlanta Hawks on a night in which the Raptors mustered just 16 total assists.
What made Tuesday so special was Siakam’s ability to read the Hawks defence and make kick-out passes and easy feeds in the paint whenever Atlanta sent a double team his way. He almost single-handedly created wide-open opportunities for his teammates to get up easy shots.
The most important part of becoming a better playmaker is knowing when to pass and when not to pass. Siakam seemed to toe that line almost perfectly against the Hawks. Having just taken a look at his passing, let’s now take a look at some of his most aggressive drives to the rim.
On most of those shots, Siakam either beat his man with his speed early or the double team never came and he scores over his defender.
Not only has Siakam begun to figure out the delicate art of playmaking, but it’s come all too often while surrounded by a lackluster group of shooters who squander golden assists opporunitites. His assists totals could be even higher this year if his teammates were more adept at converting on his kick-out passes.
Next year things should be a little bit better for Siakam. He’ll have a full summer to recover from COVID-19 and start putting together all the parts of his game he’s shown periodically throughout his career. Once his 3-point shooting jumps back up to the mid-30s like it has been in years past, his defence returns to its 2018-19 form, and his attacking gets back to the way it was for the majority of last season, the Raptors will once again have one of the NBA’s best forwards leading the way.