Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 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: Pascal Siakam was incredible in Toronto's opening night win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Before fouling out in 38 minutes of play, he led the Raptors with a superstar-like stat line of 34 points, 18 rebounds and one block. He also added five assists, but he could've easily surpassed his career-high of seven assists. NBA.com credited him with 7 potential assists on the night. While he deserves credit for the passes he did make that ended in missed shots, there were at least a couple of times that he failed to make the right read.
The possession: One missed opportunity that stands out came early in the fourth quarter.
Breakdown: Siakam was being guarded by an elite perimeter defender in Jrue Holiday, so the Raptors wisely had Norman Powell set him a screen at the 3-point line to force the Pelicans to make a decision.
The Pelicans did exactly what the Raptors were looking for, switching Holiday off of Siakam and Kendrich Williams onto him.
Well aware of the mismatch, Siakam turned his back to the basket and immediately started backing the smaller Williams down.
Siakam was one of the best post-up scorers in the league last season. According to NBA.com, he ranked in the 82nd percentile with an average of 1.08 points per possession. It's, therefore, no surprise that he drew the attention of every member of the Pelicans in the process of posting Williams up.
There are two defenders, in particular, to keep an eye on as the possession unfolds: Nicolo Melli (the big dude in the paint) and Frank Jackson (the guy next to Melli). With Melli helping off of Serge Ibaka to prevent Siakam from getting all the way to the rim, Jackson helped off of Terence Davis in the corner to prevent Ibaka from getting an open jump shot around the elbow.
The right pass should be obvious - a skip to Davis in the corner. Davis might be an undrafted rookie, but he proved to be a capable 3-point shooter at Ole Miss by knocking down 37.1 percent of his 3-point attempts as a senior.
In other words: Davis spotting-up in the corner with nobody defending him is a shot the Raptors will gladly take until they have a better idea of how his 3-point shooting will translate to the NBA.
And yet, that's not the pass Siakam made.
He instead shovelled the ball to Ibaka, who was only a couple of feet away from him and had almost as many defenders around him as Siakam did.
Ibaka put the ball on the floor and kicked the ball out to Davis, but the shot he ended up getting was far more contested than the one he could've had.
Why it matters: It's much harder to make that pass in real time than it might look, but it's one Siakam is going to have to start making this season.
If Tuesday night was a sign of what's to come, Siakam is going to handle the ball a ton this season. His usage rate against the Pelicans? 35.7 percent, according to Basketball-Reference. Want to guess how many times Siakam has had a higher usage rating in a game last season? Once - his 44-point performance against the Washington Wizards, a game Kawhi Leonard sat out with a sore knee.
Now that Leonard is in Los Angeles, there's no doubt that Siakam is Toronto's best offensive player. Because of that, he's going to see far more double teams this season than he ever has before. His teammates are going to have to make shots to prevent opponents from throwing the kitchen sink at him - especially in the post, where he generated over a third of his scoring against the Pelicans - but Siakam is going to have to prove that he can make the right reads to prevent teams from doubling him aggressively.
If he can't, Toronto's offence will almost certainly stall against the best defensive teams in the league.
Is it nitpicking considering this is Game 1 of 82 and Siakam joined Vince Carter as the only players in Raptors history to record 30 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a game? Of course. But Siakam has now graduated to "franchise player" status where nitpicking comes with the territory.
If nothing else, these are the types of missed opportunities to monitor moving forward as Siakam continues to tap into his superstar potential.
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