Six-foot-nine and a grinning menace on the fast break? Check. Seven-foot-three wingspan and can be switched anywhere? Check. Glitch-like speed and the sweetest spin move going? Check. Extremely powerful name? Check. Dropped a 26-point, 8-for-10 bomb on the Warriors? As of last night, check.
The defense has been there. But in his third season, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam now raises anticipatory eyebrows as soon as he gets the rock. (Late last season in the playoffs, watching him test out his dribble moves could would elicit the same reaction, but not always for good reasons.) Siakam’s drives could look overzealous, like someone operating at the outermost range of their handle—a player who saw every lane, no matter how clogged, as an opportunity for his favorite spin move.
Make no mistake: it’s an incredible maneuver, one to watch all day. The Cameroonian thanks his soccer background for all that dainty footwork. Plenty of defenders have found themselves in the blender even when they know full well to expect it. Sometimes, Siakam gets his feet set up before he goes to the bucket, but other times he lays it in after covering a huge expanse on the fly:
He can hit those, and significantly less death-defying looks, at an outstanding clip, maintaining a 67 percent effective field goal percentage. This season has seen Siakam sharpen the finer points of his whomping, chaotic play style: better decision-making, improved range (he’s just a hair above league-average from three on limited attempts), and sinking his free throws (a healthy 78 percent). With his physical specs and comfort in a range of roles, Siakam’s ideal future is as a speedier Draymond-type who can do a bit of everything on both ends. Watching him get to that point, skill by skill, has been a joy.
Last night against the still-undermanned Warriors, he was able to show how dangerous he could be in any part of an offense. Don’t let him leak out, because if it’s a foot race to the basket, you’ll lose.
Don’t leave him with a slow-footed mismatch on the perimeter:
And don’t sleep on his craft around the rim:
Siakam is 24, so he needed the development of all these new layers to his game to happen sooner rather than later, but fortunately, it appears to be in full swing. Should it continue, his versatility as a third option could help the Raptors eke out a Finals berth, where they can hopefully give the world seven games as stimulating as last night’s. Why couldn’t it happen? The Raptors are 19-4, and they boast Kawhi, an endless bench, and this cool guy. Much more importantly, they no longer have to wriggle their way out from underneath LeBron James’s foot.