Raptors Notebook: Siakam, Barnes showing signs of growing chemistry

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is impressed with the progression that he's seen in Scottie Barnes' three-point shooting since he was drafted by the team.

TORONTO – With about three and a half minutes to play in the second quarter of the Toronto Raptors’ 97-83 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night, Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes made a read to lob the ball into Pascal Siakam over Pat Connaughton, who was looking to front Siakam.

This was aided by Siakam setting up Connaughton by forcefully shifting behind the Bucks guard and locking eyes with Barnes indicating he was open.

From there, Siakam was underneath the basket and just needed to make a quick pump fake to free himself up for an easy layup

About minute after that, Siakam was trying to back down Connaughton along the right side of the key and attracted the double team of Khris Middleton as well, who should’ve been keeping his eye on Barnes as Siakam was acutely aware of where Barnes was at the top of the arc. Right as Middleton took one step too close to him, he flung a pass to the ready and waiting hands of Barnes who easily and comfortably splashed home the triple.

Though these were only two plays, they could be an indication of something very encouraging for the Raptors in both the short and long-term.

It’s still a work in progress, but the forward duo of Siakam, Toronto’s current star, and Barnes, a young man who looks to be the Raptors’ star in the future, has looked increasingly comfortable, with Thursday’s victory over Milwaukee the most eye-opening example yet.

“I was really happy,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Siakam’s performance Thursday night after that game. “I thought he was getting to the middle of the free-throw line and getting off it quick when the help was there and he also took it deep a lot and was getting surrounded and was finding guys behind them and kicking it out well. I thought he did a really good job with that. I don't know if he found Scottie that much, but he must have once or twice. Yeah… or Scottie finding him.”

This budding chemistry between Siakam and Barnes has been most noticeably building and growing, not-so-coincidentally, over the Raptors’ last three games as Barnes looks to have become a more dangerous threat from the outside.

Seen as a non-shooter coming out of college, Barnes lived up to that moniker over his first 18 games, connecting on just 23.3 per cent of the 1.1 three-point attempts per game he was taking.

Ever since the Raptors have started this seven-game homestand they’re currently on, however, he’s looked like a completely different player shooting the deep ball, going 47.6 per cent from distance on seven attempts per game.

A drastic uptick in both quantity and quality, the shooting tear Barnes is on right now is a product of what has been an extensive program the Raptors have set up for him from the very beginning of his young NBA career.

“We certainly have been encouraging him to do it – all the coaches, the coaching staff, I give them tons of credit. From the second he was drafted we got to work on the shooting piece for him,” said Nurse after the Raptors’ practised Saturday. “And then it always goes back to the players. They always [have to] come in in the morning, come in at night, they come in and do double or twice what we ask them to do and then it becomes their switch to finally flip on, so just go ahead and do it. So give him credit for that.

“And, you know, you can go back and see pretty similar [growths] for some of these other guys. It’s always been a start that’s been kinda wobbly at the three-point line and then 20 games or so in it changes a little bit. From Fred [VanVleet], to Pascal [Siakam] and you can go on and on like Norm [Powell] and some other guys, too.”

True to Nurse’s assessment, it was in Barnes’ 19th game as a pro that it looked like both the aggression and the confidence to launch it from deep has come into play for him and it’s starting to make life easier for his other teammates, with Siakam looking like one of the chief benefactors.

“I haven’t played in a while and even pre-season or anything we didn’t get to play together,” said Siakam when asked if he’s looking for Barnes more in the passing game. “So it comes with time and just understanding where he is on the floor. He’s shooting more threes now so I feel like now when I have the ball, I can always draw defence and most of the time he’s going to be open. He’s taking those shots and making them with confidence and it’s good.

“Obviously, we know he can pass also, so if I can move and cut I’m sure he can find me. So that works out.”

For Siakam, a key aspect of his game is looking to hunt for mismatches, including posting up smaller defenders. This will, inevitably, lead to doubles coming his way and so, if he has another option in Barnes he can kick out to, it’s bound to unlock his game that much more.

It also helps that on the defensive end, Barnes can now take some of the assignments Siakam would’ve been on in the past thanks to his Swiss Army Knife-like skillset on defence.

“I think obviously of his versatility,” Siakam said of what he likes the most of Barnes’ game. “On defence, just being focused and guard anybody really. That gives us a boost on our team, just having someone who can guard anyone. I feel like for most of the time I was always one of those guys. I think just having more of that, sometimes I feel like I’m alone out there, so it feels good to have someone who can just do like everything, literally.”

It's still very much a small sample size, but seeing some chemistry percolating between the Raptors’ current and future star has to be a promising sign for the team moving forward as it tries to return to playing .500 basketball and, further down the line, look to compete as a legitimate title contender.

Quick dribbles

• OG Anunoby and Khem Birch will remain out of the lineup for the Raptors’ Sunday affair with the Washington Wizards.

Neither player practised on Saturday.

• Though his chemistry has been building with Barnes over the last three games, Siakam has also been in a lot of foul trouble, committing 16 fouls across those last three contests.

According to him, the way the game’s being officiated now – with the rules reverting more to how they were last season as far as physicality goes – he just needs to make an adjustment to not be as aggressive.

“For me I was just watching these games and getting super excited about how they let things go,” said Siakam,” “You know what I mean? It was exciting and I got too excited about it. I think that period of time is gone now. I feel like it’s not that anymore. So I just have to be mindful of that.

“Just getting away from the cheap ones, the little slaps or whatever – If I’m going to have a foul I would rather it be an actual foul preventing someone from scoring or a foul I actually want to give. Just staying away from the cheap ones and hopefully the gods will be on my side one of these days and I won’t foul out.”

• Sunday, Dec. 5 is the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing and will be the ninth time the Raptors play on the date since the former South African president passed in 2013.

The game is part of a weekend of celebration for Raptors president and vice-chairman Masai Ujiri’s Giants of Africa Foundation that will feature a gala fundraising luncheon before the game Sunday and social justice initiatives made on Monday.

“It means everything, just having someone like Masai be at the head of this and what he’s done for the continent and everything is just amazing to see, it’s beyond basketball,” said Siakam, a native of Cameroon, of Giants of Africa. “He’s someone that I always felt you can definitely learn from and his impact. Everything he’s done is great, man, and I just wanna learn from him, we always have conversations and just going out there and finding ways to help out and help the continent get to where it’s at and just seeing the amount of players from Africa. It’s unbelievable, just seeing the impact.”

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