$130 million never looked so reasonable.
That had to be the thoughts of Raptors fans as the “Who will step up with Kawhi gone?” question was answered by Pascal Siakam with authority in their season-opening win against the Zion-less New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
Fred VanVleet also came up huge with a career-high 34 points and an additional 17 points provided by his 7 assists, but Siakam is going to be the guy the Raptors will need to maintain his production the most going forward.
Siakam was the league’s Most Improved Player during the 2018-2019 campaign and came into this season with a giant target on his back. He will no longer see secondary defenders while opposing coaches attempt to scheme against Kawhi. He is going to be the name on the top of every scouting report. I had questions on how he would fare as the number one option without an established superstar buffer. Though it is only one game against a Pelicans team short of their rookie superstar, Siakam showed enough last night to cement his place as a top 15-20 player in the league right now.
Siakam’s 30pt-18reb-5ast night was the first of its kind in a season opener since Charles Barkley in 1992. The points and rebounds will be there but the 5 assists showed that he was calmly looking around for shooters despite the increased defensive attention.
You’ll have to dust up on your Spanish for the audio in the clips used here but the visual proof of Siakam’s dominance translates in any language. His agility and length in transition will give people problems all season. All he has to do is get near the rim where he uses his length with either hand attacking downhill like only he and Giannis Antetokounmpo can.
Per pbpstats.com, the Raptors averaged 12.6 seconds per possession offensively. That number would have led the league last season and speaks to Toronto’s intent to maximize the strengths of their young star by running out in transition early and often. Siakam constantly finds success by attacking downhill and the Raptors will look to capitalize off of that with quick screens in space in the half-court as well.
In this play, the Raptors get a quick one by blitzing New Orleans with an early high ball screen for Siakam in space. Again, Siakam will be best going downhill and action like this gives him the speed and gravity to draw a ton of help. This time he stays sharp and gets OG Anunoby on a clean run to the basket. Note that they initiated this screen with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.
Toronto will be tough to beat for teams that don’t have the size on the perimeter to combat Siakam while he is on the move. Against teams who are better able to build a wall, Siakam is going to have to get better with his back to the basket. I was a little surprised at the number of times he was not able to take advantage of smaller defenders on the block. There were times he made great moves and got a bucket but there were also too many situations that ended up in a blown layup or a turnover.
As the season progresses Siakam will need to use more of his strength around the rim. His 7-for-15 shooting at the rim and four fouls drawn in the paint were not terrible but he left a few points on the floor that the Raptors can’t afford to leave against better teams. Improved strength and aggression on his attacks should see more successful attempts around the hoop.
The fourth-year forward had a usage of 35.8% last night and we can expect that to be a trend after Siakam went above 30% only three games last season. The Toronto Raptors will only go as far as he goes. So far, so good.