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  • Nikola Cuvalo

Big Thrills from “P. Skills” - The Emergence of Raptors Forward Pascal Siakam

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If you’ve managed to catch any Toronto Raptors games at all this season, you’ve probably seen “P. Skills” go to work. He bounds up and down the court with unrelenting bursts of adrenaline; swatting shots, pilfering the ball and famously placing defenders in the wash cycle with his high-velocity spin moves in transition. If you haven’t seen a Raptors game in while, and you’ve recently stumbled upon a game on League Pass, you’ve likely chastised yourself for failing to immediately match a name to the lanky, energetic figure wearing No. 43.

Now that more than a quarter of the NBA’s 2018/19 regular season has passed, it’s about time you add Pascal Siakam to your list of budding NBA star players. Making a strong case for himself as a candidate to take home this season’s Most Improved Player award, Siakam is

averaging 15 PPG/6 RPG/3 APG on shooting splits of 61/33/78 (FG%/FG3%/FT%) in his third season.

While his raw yet surprisingly savvy defense continues to impress, the improvements he has made to his offensive game this season can only be described as breathtaking. Among all Raptors who have played at least 100 minutes, Siakam leads the Raptors with an offensive rating of 129! That’s not a misprint; on a team with two early-season MVP candidates and perennial All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, Siakam paces the roster in points produced per 100 possessions. The advanced stats paint an even more flattering picture. Siakam paces the 21-6 Raptors in VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player, a catch-all metric favored by the sports analytics community for its comprehensive nature.

Raptors Republic

Siakam, by almost every measure available to the observer, has transcended the typical growth curve exhibited by most newcomers to the Association. Having never even picked up a basketball until the age of 15, it nevertheless took him little time to explode onto the college basketball scene at New Mexico State University. After two years there, he was selected 27th overall in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors. Upon being named the 2017 NBA D-League Finals MVP while playing for the Toronto’s affiliate team, Raptors 905, Siakam was brought up to join the NBA roster and has stuck ever since.

While long-vaunted for his inherent athleticism, high-motor, and utterly infectious work ethic, no one could have foreseen the sudden improvements in skill-based playmaking and finesse ball-handling that have allowed Siakam to make such leaps so soon in his career. Well, no one except for newly-minted Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse, that is.

It is no coincidence that the development of Siakam has kicked into overdrive with the simultaneous promotion of Nurse this season. Under Nurse, Siakam has been given more chances to demonstrate his mouth-watering repertoire of offensive capabilities and defensive versatility. His minutes have spiked to about 30 per game, and he’s started 26 of the Raptor’s 27 games thus far; on track to shatter his usage over the course of a full season. Nurse’s pace and space system has also done wonders for Siakam, as it has unlocked his preternatural athletic gifts and his ability to run and finish in the open court. Thus, Nurse’s superb utilization of Siakam has no doubt factored heavily into Pascal’s breakout campaign.

With 55 games to go in the regular season and an all-but-guaranteed shot at making his mark in the playoffs, Raptors fans everywhere watch with bated breath as Siakam attempts to ascend up the NBA ladder of stardom. Should he succeed, he would cement the Raptor’s case for top-dog status in the Eastern Conference, and raise the ceiling of the current roster to that of a team truly worthy of an NBA Finals appearance.

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