Why Raptors’ Pascal Siakam is worthy of being an NBA all-star this season

Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins break down the Raptors’ double-overtime win over the Wizards, looking at the big push from Serge Ibaka and the combo of Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.

There’s plenty of buzz in Toronto lately with NBA and NHL all-star festivities fast approaching.

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam found a way to get in on the fun, asking fans to vote Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly to the NHL’s all-star game.

While Siakam has waved the pom-poms to try and get other Toronto athletes like Rielly closer to all-star status, the third-year pro is making a compelling case himself to be named to the 2019 Eastern Conference All-Star team.

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Consistency short-handed

The Raptors have been without Kawhi Leonard on the second night of back-to-backs and were without Kyle Lowry for nearly a month due to lingering back pain. Jonas Valanciunas has also been sidelined since Dec. 13 with a dislocated thumb. Yet after all that, Toronto still sports a 33-12 record and sit No. 1 in the conference.

Siakam is just one piece of the puzzle here, but his contributions have played a crucial role in helping the Raptors win short-handed. Even without Lowry, Leonard and Valanciunas in the lineup, the 24-year-old’s averages remain impressive.

Pascal Siakam Per-game averages
Without Kawhi Leonard (10 games) 16.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 56.7 FG% (68/120)
Without Kyle Lowry (10 games) 15.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks, 51.4 FG% (57/111)
Without Jonas Valanciunas (14 games) 16.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 50.8 FG% (87/171)

The Raptors’ 2016 first-round pick is capable of bringing the ball up the court as a point-forward and has the handle and quickness to wreak havoc in transition. He also has an unrelenting ability to get to the rim, where he has showcased an elite finishing touch.

Siakam has proven himself as a reliable offensive weapon, whether as a secondary option or in this case when defences pay closer attention to him.

Favoured by advanced metrics

Siakam is averaging career-best numbers across the board. He also ranks near the top of the league in efficiency, with the 12th-highest field goal percentage among players that average 25 minutes or more (57.2 per cent).

Those numbers are solid, but advanced metrics help paint an even clearer picture of Siakam’s value.

The Cameroonian ranks 18th league-wide with 5.0 win shares and ranks tied for 17th in offensive win shares (3.1) as well, which indicates his immense value on the offensive end.

Siakam is right behind some of the game’s best players on the win-shares list, including Kyrie Irving, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid, despite the Raptors rarely running plays through him; a lot of Siakam’s offensive success comes from thriving in chaos and capitalizing off opponents’ mistakes. Having a go-to spin move that continues stifling defenders helps, too.

The former New Mexico Aggie is one of just four players that ranks top-20 in win shares with a usage rate below 20 per cent.

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How Siakam compares to other borderline All-Star candidates

Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are locks as starters at the All-Star Game, while Jimmy Butler and Blake Griffin have strong cases as the fourth and fifth reserve forwards. That leaves one other spot unclaimed.

Joining Siakam as the other top candidates are Jayson Tatum, Andre Drummond and Khris Middleton.

Tatum shoots better at the free throw line and slightly better from three-point range, but trails Siakam in every other efficiency category. Boston’s forward also takes three more field goal attempts per game and has a higher usage rate than Siakam, which explains his higher points per game average.

When it comes to advanced metrics, Siakam has a significant edge over Tatum.

As for Drummond, his league-best rebounding numbers make his all-star case intriguing on the surface. But when you take into account how his play doesn’t help Detroit increase its win total and underwhelming advanced numbers, his bid takes a hit.

Middleton may be Siakam’s stiffest competition, as the Milwaukee Bucks’ sharpshooter is averaging 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists, playing second fiddle to Antetokounmpo on one of the East’s top teams.

Winning rules out

Players on a team sitting near or at the top of a conference, in some cases, receive more all-star recognition than others.

Take the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks for example, who after their hot first half, had four all-star starters in Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver representing the East. It’s an extreme example, but goes to show team success has the potential to influence the voting process.

With Leonard and Lowry essentially locks to make this year’s Eastern Conference squad, you could justify the Raptors having a third representative in Charlotte.

Siakam won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours in November, and if the regular season ended today, he would also be one of the favourites — along with Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox — to take home Most Improved Player honours.

Given all that he’s accomplished so far in 2018-19, an all-star berth doesn’t seem out of the question at this point.

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