Welcome to “One Play!” During the 2022-23 NBA season, our TSN staff will break down specific possessions from specific games and draw back the curtains to reveal their greater significance.
Today, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is in the spotlight.
Pascal Siakam revealed at Media Day that his goal is to be a top 5 player in the NBA. That’s still pretty ambitious, but he certainly opened some eyes with his game at the start of the season.
Siakam has scored at least 20 points in all four of Toronto’s games. He opened the season with a double-double. He then recorded a 37-point triple-double in a loss to the Nets. He didn’t shoot particularly well in the team’s duel against the Heat, and yet he helped the Raptors share the streak with a great fourth quarter on Monday.
The numbers are one thing, but it was the way Siakam put his stamp on this game that stood out.
You know what that means – to the movie room!
LOG IN TO WATCH EVERY GAME WITH NBA LEAGUE PASS: USA and UK | All other countries
Break down: Fred VanVleet brings the ball up for the Raptors at 1:12 in a one-ball game.
On the court with VanVleet and Siakam are Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa. Anunoby and Achiuwa clear the floor by standing side by side in the weakside corner. Trent seems confused about the plan, but he makes his way to the corner across from Anunoby and Achiuwa as Siakam approaches VanVleet to set up a screen.
Jimmy Butler starts possession on Siakam but switches to VanVleet, leaving the much smaller Gabe Vincent to defend Siakam. (It feels like the Heat could turn back on how easily they admit Switches at times, but that’s talk for another day.)
It looks like Siakam likes the matchup because he clearly tells Trent to fold.
Vincent does a good job of getting Siakam to catch the ball further away than he wants and even manages to tuck the ball away, but Siakam still has a few seconds to work with it when he finally gains control and makes his move.
Siakam takes a few dribbles towards the basket, gives Vincent a chicken wing to create some space, and rises for a smooth midrange.
Vincent answers, but given his size, he can’t do much.
“He’s an absolute mismatch,” VanVleet said of Siakam after the game. “Anytime on the pitch we can find a guy to shoot at. That little baseline to his right, there won’t be many guys that can guard that. That’s a great bailout for execution going there in the fourth quarter.”
Why it matters: The Raptors ran the exact same game on the next possession, only this time the Heat defended it differently. Not only was Kyle Lowry the one guarding Siakam, but the heat made the ground shrink with Bam Adebayo standing under the basket and Butler helping VanVleet by the elbow far away.
Rather than force a shot, Siakam kicked to VanVleet.
Tyler Herro turned before VanVleet could get a shot off, but that opened up a pass to Trent in the corner, and he nailed a 3-pointer that served as a nail in the coffin.
Although he wasn’t credited with the assist, this entire sequence began with Siakam attempting to punish a mismatch, flexing the defense and making the right pass at the right time to get the Heat rotating.
Siakam did more of the same last season, but he’s taken it up a notch to start this season. He seems more comfortable picking his points on offense and he’s becoming a tougher goalscorer. He drives more than ever, which helps him hit the free-throw line at a speed on par with the league’s top scorers. His pass is even crisper.
Siakam doesn’t do anything particularly complicated as a facilitator, but he nails the little things, like delivering the ball to teammates on the money when the defense collapses. There is real heat on his passes too.
Whether kick-outs or shooters…
…or charges to cutting machines…
… he threw some lasers to start the season.
The result: Siakam averaged career bests of 26.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists in four games. The only other players currently releasing those numbers are two multiple MVPs in LeBron James and Nikola Jokic.
The real test, of course, is whether Siakam can maintain this level of production for an entire season, but the seeds for his next leap are just being planted.