Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam takes the spotlight.
Context: Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher stole the show in Toronto's come-from-behind win against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, but Pascal Siakam had one of the best games we've seen from him in a long time.
Not only was he efficient, scoring 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, Siakam came close to his first career triple-double by dishing out 12 assists and pulling down nine rebounds.
Siakam threw a number of impressive passes en route to his 12 assists, some of which the Raptors weren't able to capitalize one.
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: Siakam brings the ball up following a made shot from the Kings and is picked up by Buddy Hield almost as soon as he crosses halfcourt. Sporting a five-inch height advantage and a 10-pound weight advantage, Siakam immediately goes to work by dribbling to the corner and turning his back to Hield.
VanVleet, Boucher, Norman Powell and Malachi Flynn space the floor for Siakam by spotting up on the 3-point line.
It's iso time.
As Siakam begins to back Hield down, VanVleet cuts from the opposite wing to the paint, drawing his defender, Glenn Robinson III, with him.
VanVleet wastes little time retreating to the corner, but Robinson doesn't follow him. Why? He's fixated on Siakam.
Robinson isn't alone. All five Kings are staring at him, most notably Richaun Holmes, who is guarding Boucher.
Boucher punishes Holmes for ball-watching by wisely cutting towards the basket as VanVleet makes his way back out to the perimeter.
Siakam doesn't find Boucher on the initial cut. Instead, he spins over his left shoulder and forces Robinson to make a decision. If Robinson doesn't rotate over, Siakam has a layup. If he does, it leaves Boucher unguarded underneath the basket.
Robinson does rotate over and Siakam makes the right play, sneaking a pass between Hield and Robinson rather than forcing the issue over two defenders.
Boucher goes up for a layup and gets fouled from behind by Holmes, earning him two free throws.
Why it matters: The Raptors aren't paying Siakam $130 million over the next four years to be a passer, but it's important for his long-term development that he can punish teams for loading up on him.
For what it's worth, I broke down a pass Siakam didn't make in Toronto's season-opener last season to illustrate how much room he has to improve as a passer. (Looking back on it, it was probably a little harsh to criticize him for not making a particular pass in his first outing as a No. 1 option, especially when he went off for 34 points and 18 rebounds, but I digress). One game isn't going to wash all of that away, but his performance against the Kings showed how much he has grown as a facilitator over the last 12-plus months.
It's not just the 12 assists either. It's the types of passes he made. He was aggressive about pushing the pace off of misses and he forced the defence to adjust to him, not the other way around. It shows on this particular play, with Siakam wasting little time putting Hield on an island and taking it to him.
The second point - forcing the defence to adjust to him - is pivotal for Siakam and the Raptors. He's gotten off to a slow start this season but has looked more like his normal self in the past two games, coming close to a triple-double against the Kings and scoring a game-high 32 points against the Phoenix Suns. While the numbers speak for themselves - Siakam came into those games averaging 17.6 points on 40.7 percent shooting from the field - it's palpable how much more aggressive he's been lately.
The Raptors still have a long way to go, as does Siakam, but they're both taking steps in the right direction.
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