Why Pascal Siakam is the Raptors’ not-so-secret weapon for the NBA playoffs

Why Pascal Siakam is the Raptors’ not-so-secret weapon for the NBA playoffs
The Pascal Siakam story has been delightful and important for the Raptors this season, and the emergence of a bona fide third star has helped the team at so many levels.

He’s helped take the pressure off the team’s two all-stars in Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. He’s helped create space for shooters such as Fred VanVleet and Danny Green, and the fact that he’s been so dominant as a power forward has meant Serge Ibaka hasn’t had to spend more than a few minutes playing the position, and that’s allowed Ibaka to thrive.

But the one that sometimes gets lost is that Siakam has learned so much about himself — what he can and can’t do, how he handles a variety of defences set up to stop him solely — that it’s only going to help the team when the NBA playoffs begin in just under two weeks.

No more. Now Siakam sees the odd double-team when he has the ball on the post.

Good teams are sure to have defensive floor balance in transition to stop him from leaking out for easy dunks. Everyone overplays and tries to force him to go left, because he’s so lethal spinning to his right. He’s on their minds — and he keeps beating them.

“He’s not just improved. He’s a legit force in this league,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters in Chicago on the weekend. “What surprised me most is that he was not only able to sustain it. I mean, I think he had such a hot start, people had to be thinking: Can he really keep this up? Well, he’s not only done that, he keeps leaping forward — and it’s not baby steps, either.

“He’s out there commanding the ball, and he’s a commanding presence and drawing double-teams. He is doing a lot, and you just see him growing weekly. That is what is surprising, and it’s continued growth. No slippage. No two steps forward, one step back. Just a continued path to just being a great player, really.”

Siakam will tell anyone who listens that he isn’t surprised that he’s had such a breakout year against new defensive schemes and attention, because he’s extraordinarily confident in his abilities and the work he puts in on off-days, trying to deal with different defensive scenarios.

He still has the odd moment where something will catch him off-guard. He went through a stretch in the last couple of weeks where was turning the ball over far too often, but that didn’t last too long. Nurse figures that ability to learn on the fly should serve Siakam well in the playoffs, when teams can truly lock in with ways to disrupt him.

“We showed him the clips (one day last week where) he probably forced a few (shots) when there were a couple guys doing jumping jacks on the outside wide open,” Nurse said. “And then there were a couple where he did go in there, there was a big crowd and he zinged it out for an open three. That’s just a progression … of being game-planned for differently, understanding that one guy can’t cover you so they have to send two, and seeing what the reads are.”
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