Siakam shows glimpses of pre-bubble self in Raptors win over Wizards

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives tot the net with Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) defending close behind during first half NBA action in Toronto, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (Cole Burston/CP)

TORONTO – Pascal Siakam had, probably, his best game of the season Sunday evening against the Washington Wizards, finishing with 31 points, six rebounds and three assists on 10-of-21 shooting from the floor and a 10-for-12 mark from the free-throw line.

Aided by a spectacular defensive performance from his team, overall – not to mention some good luck sprayed on him by his two-month-old niece the day before – Siakam thrived on Sunday, looking smart and aggressive on his drives to the hoop, allowing him to get to the free-throw line as many times as he did, he was decisive on his reads and passing the ball and was ultra-confident with his jumper – mostly from the mid-range – rising up and firing whenever he wanted.

A far cry from the Siakam who had put up decent scoring numbers (18.1 points per game) but wasn’t all that efficient doing it while struggling to get to the free-throw line in the 12 games he had played before. This was the assertive, bend-the-game-to-my-will Siakam that has largely been missing since before the bubble in the 2019-20 NBA season.

And it sounds like it’s all down to a matter of comfort for Siakam.

“I think for me, again, coming from not playing for six months, I just felt like some of the times, you don't have your legs under you, it takes away from a lot of things, and I think that I just need to continue to work and focus on defence and having my legs under me and just having that energy to be out there,” said Siakam after the Toronto Raptors’ 102-90 victory over the Wizards. “I know what I can do on the floor. And just now learning how to use my skills and get to where I want to get to and take the shots that I want to take no matter what.”

This ease Siakam is beginning to feel is likely a result of extensive film work he’s talked about doing, familiarity and chemistry he’s building with some of his new teammates and, overall, just becoming more aware of where everyone on the floor is and making better decisions with the ball armed with that knowledge.

“Just kind of playing a little more faced up or when he is backing down, remaining, looking at what's in front of him, rather than so much turning and being surprised by somebody at the other end,” said Nurse of Siakam on Sunday. “He just kept working his way down but he had the vision of the spacing and the cutting and what it was all looking like and I think he controlled it well enough where they couldn't, it was almost like they wanted to double but never really did, because he was kinda controlling it like he knew that if they came like it was going right there to a shooter or whatever, so they kept kind of staying home, and he made them pay for that with good composure.”

For the Raptors as a team, should Siakam continue to play in the manner that he did Sunday night against the Wizards, it could be a major revelation for a team that oftentimes labours scoring in the halfcourt, ranking in the bottom-third in the league in halftime points per 100 plays according to Cleaning The Glass.

With Siakam both actively hunting his shot and keeping his eyes peeled for open options to kick out to, it suddenly transforms the Raptors into a much dangerous, multi-faceted offensive threat.

As an example, look at how Siakam drew a foul here in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. From about the left corner, Siakam starts backing down Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but keeps his head up, aware of the potential help that may come from Bradley Beal. He directly looks at Gary Trent Jr., who was at the top of the arc and was Beal’s assignment, then, right as Beal takes an extra step towards him – as he’s made it to that left block – he spins away from the double and puts up a fadeaway jumper over Caldwell-Pope who foolishly reaches in and sends Siakam to the free-throw line.

This play is all made possible because there was no hesitancy by Siakam in what he was looking to do. He had his head up the whole way scanning the defence as he backed down Caldwell-Pope and while he had the option of kicking out to Trent, he decided to spin away and put up a shot himself, something that ended up being a good decision as he got to the line again, where he appeared to build a good rhythm for himself in that opening quarter, leading to a second-quarter explosion that saw him go off for 17 points in the frame while hitting shots like these ones:

Of course, Siakam did slow down in the second half, but by then the damage he inflicted in the first half was done. Siakam was in the Wizards’ heads and even when he didn’t have the ball in his hands, he was drawing more attention, leading to more space an opportunity for others such as Chris Boucher, who had a nice game Sunday, finishing with 14 points as he looked to re-discover some of that old Tampa form of his with plays like this one:

This was obviously some nice play design, highlighted by a gorgeous pass from Dalano Banton to the cutting Boucher. But the crisp result of it all may have been different if not for Siakam, who was hanging out a few steps inside the three-point line along the left baseline with Kyle Kuzma absolutely glued to him. As the play developed, had Kuzma sagged off Siakam, Banton could’ve reversed the ball back to Precious Achiuwa who then could’ve found Siakam open in the corner for three. That didn’t happen, though, because Kuzma was concerned about Siakam as a threat and the rest of the Raptors – Boucher, specifically – benefitted as a result.

One game isn’t much of a sample size, but given how deliberate Siakam was in his dominance Sunday it’s hard not to think that was a game you can look to for him to build off of as he continues to get more comfortable and more like the All-NBA player he once was.

“I think that just for me, I just continue to work hard understanding, watching film, and knowing what's out there for me,” said Siakam. “Sometimes, you know, you're flowing, and I think that the more I get my legs under me, I'm going to flow a lot more like that because I know what I can do on the floor.”

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