Toronto Raptors

How Pascal Siakam's game has changed in the playoffs

You probably didn't need Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to point it out to know that Pascal Siakam hasn't been himself in these playoffs.

At the simplest of levels, Siakam's numbers have dipped across the board. Whereas he averaged 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the regular season, he's down to 18.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists through nine games in the playoffs.

Of greater concern has been the efficiency with which he has scored. Siakam's true shooting percentage has fallen from 55.4 percent to 48.3 percent, the result of him shooting 41.1 percent from the field, 21.3 percent from 3-point range and 73.7 percent from the free throw line.

For perspective, that's the difference between him scoring with the same efficiency as someone like Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett.

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What's the cause of those struggles? There are a number of factors that could be at play, but it doesn't help that Siakam's shot profile has changed quite a bit.

Using's Play Type data, you can see where Siakam's scoring is coming from in the playoffs compared to the regular season. He isn't limited to only scoring on the following five plays - transition, isolation, post-up, spot-up, pick-and-roll ball handler - but it's where he does the bulk of his damage.

Pascal Siakam's play type frequency (2019-20)
Regular Season Playoffs
Transition 21.7% 14.8%
Isolation 14.2% 18.1%
Post-up 12.2% 22.0%
Spot-up 14.4% 17.0%
Pick-and-roll ball handler 17.6% 8.2%

A few things that should jump out:

  1. Siakam isn't getting out in transition nearly as much. He is averaging 2.7 points per game in transition in the playoffs, which is less than half (5.8) of what he averaged in the regular season.
  2. Siakam is creating a lot more offence for himself. In the post, mostly. Siakam is averaging 4.4 post-up possessions per game in the playoffs, putting him behind only Joel Embiid (9.8), Nikola Vucevic (5.0) and Al Horford (4.5) - three traditional centres - for most in the league.
  3. Siakam's jump shot has disappeared. He's spotting-up more in the playoffs, but he ranks in the 10th percentile with an average of 0.71 points per spot-up possession. According to, he's 9-for-33 on catch-and-shoot 3s and 0-for-13 on pull-up 3s. His inability to make pull-ups is particularly concerning because his growth as an off-the-dribble 3-point shooter was a huge part of his development into an All-Star this season.
  4. Siakam's pick-and-rolls are down. Like, way down, to the point where Kyle Lowry said after Game 5 that the Raptors need to get Siakam more pick-and-rolls.

Through that lens, it's not a surprise that Siakam has struggled at times. It might not explain why he has struggled as much as he has, but taking away his strengths and forcing him to play more to his weaknesses was clearly a focus of the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and has been a focus of the Boston Celtics in the second round.

More than anything, it might explain why Siakam has "been so out of rhythm" lately - the transition opportunities he feasted on during the regular season have dried up, taking him out of his comfort zone.

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It's not that Siakam can't create for himself when he's not getting out in transition. As I wrote earlier in the season, he has grown tremendously as a creator this season. Not only has he become one of the league's leading isolation scorers, he's proven to be a solid scorer in the post, as well as a capable scorer in the pick-and-roll.

The problem is that Siakam ranked around the league average in efficiency on each of those plays.

I considered that to be a huge victory for both him and the Raptors at the time considering how new all of this is to him - it's easy to forget that Siakam isn't far removed from being basically a spot-up shooter on offence - but we're starting to see his limitations as a primary scorer in these playoffs, especially when he's going up against a team like the Celtics who have the personnel to match up with him. I'm not sure anybody expected Siakam to completely fill Kawhi Leonard's shoes, but this has been the series where it shows how much the Raptors miss having a bucket getter when the game slows down.

The good news for the Raptors? This could be a tremendous learning experience for Siakam.

You'd be hard pressed to find another player in the league whose game has changed as much as Siakam over the last four seasons, and this is another opportunity for him to learn what's needed for him to take the next step in his development. This is his first postseason as a No. 1 scoring option after all. Outside of settling for too many 3-pointers at times, he's still generating decent looks for himself for the most part. He just hasn't been able to consistently knock them down. (A study by Darryl Blackport at the end of August backed that up, pointing to Siakam's field goal percentage being 10.4 percentage points lower than expected based on the shots he was taking).

The bad news? It's going to be difficult for the Raptors to defeat the Celtics - mind alone defend their title - if Siakam can't find a way to break through.

Let's see if Nurse calling him out will get Siakam going.

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