Pascal Siakam is back.
It feels like that sentence has been said a number of times before - and it has - but the Toronto Raptors' go-to guy has scored 30-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since he did so on Dec. 14 and 16 in 2019.
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While it's from a small two-game sample size against the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic, the numbers have been an encouraging recent development. But it's not just that Siakam is making things happen on the offensive end, it's how he's making things happen, by attacking with aggression.
In Toronto's Jan. 31 win over Orlando, Siakam scored 24 of his 30 points in the paint, while his other six points came from a perfect 6-for-6 showing from the charity stripe. When asked about a concerted effort to get into the paint and attack throughout the game, Siakam told Sportsnet's Eric Smith that it's a product of his physical wellbeing, saying that "it's been a while … since I've been feeling like my body (is) not right.
"(I've had) bumps and bruises everywhere. I've been taking these weeks to just take care of my body, making sure that I'm healthy and I'm ready to go out there and bring everything that I got, so for me, it's just continuing to attack, do what I do and just take it one day at a time."
Looking back at the game log, it makes plenty of sense.
Siakam missed the Raptors series with the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 24 and 25 and returned to finish with just 11 points against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 27. His outburst came in the two following games where he scored 32 points against the Kings, owners of the league's worst-rated defence and 30 points against the Magic, whose defence ranks 20th.
Prior to defeating Orlando, Toronto was 0-7 in games where Siakam finished with 20 or more points. With that out of the way, it's important to emphasize how important Siakam's offensive output will be as the Raptors enter what is yet another crucial stretch in the first half of the season.
A rematch with the Magic begins a six-game, 10-day road trip for the Raptors that also includes the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics. If this stretch wasn't difficult enough, OG Anunoby will likely miss the majority of the trip with a calf injury, if not the entirety of it.
Simply put, the Raptors are going to need much more of what they've recently gotten from Siakam in order to continue the climb back to .500.
Toronto's upcoming stretch provides unique challenges but Siakam has the opportunity to begin on the right foot by replicating his efforts against an Orlando team that will be without Aaron Gordon, who could have provided resistance on the defensive end. From there, the Raptors face a mixed bag of defences as the Nets (25th) and Wizards (28th) are ranked in the bottom 10 while the Hawks (9th), Grizzlies (2nd) and Celtics (10th) each rank in the top 10.
Ideally, for Siakam, performances while facing two weaker defences in Orlando and Brooklyn will give him the momentum for the remainder of the trip. Although Atlanta ranks in the top 10 in defensive rating, Siakam could still manage to find his spots as only four teams allow more points in the paint per contest than the Hawks, who are giving up 49.2 points in the paint through 20 games.
Big performances through the first three games could set the tone for the remainder of a trip that ends with a Celtics team that used its personnel to make life difficult for Siakam in the 2020 Playoffs. In an earlier meeting this year, Siakam finished with 22 points (on 7-for-15 shooting) against Boston but much has changed since then.
In the first loss to Boston, Siakam shot 2-for-5 (40.0%) from beyond the arc; he's shot just 8-for-40 (20.0%) from in 12 games since.
As discouraging as the recent 3-point shooting splits may be, it's encouraging due to the simple fact that Siakam shot just a shade under 36.0% from beyond the arc on a high volume of attempts last season, which suggests that he can rediscover his stroke from beyond the arc.
If and when Siakam couples his ability to attack the paint with his ability to connect from deep, the Raptors will reap many more benefits.
It's at that point that he'll really be back.
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