Toronto Raptors

Pascal Siakam is a breakout star, one of the NBA's best forwards and a potential All-Star

Pascal Siakam is soaring to new heights this season
Pascal Siakam is soaring to new heights this season (Getty Images)

Pascal Siakam is in the midst of a breakout season and is one of the reasons the Toronto Raptors look like a legitimate title contender midway through December.

The third-year forward might be the quintessential example of a player that you simply need to watch in order to fully appreciate. While his basic stats - 14.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game - won't wow you, Siakam plays with a boundless energy on both ends that is simply contagious.

It's an eerily similar impact to the one that Draymond Green has had over the years for the Golden State Warriors. Though Siakam might not be on Green's level as a playmaker, he plays a style that' reminescent of the All-Star big he'll be up against on Wednesday, a matchup we were robbed of in the first meeting as Green sat out.

Watch the Raptors for any considerable stretch and it's obvious that Siakam simply makes the Raptors significantly better.

In short, he's an Eye Test All-Star.

While he's a player that passes the eye test with flying colors, don't let that fool you into thinking numbers don't see Siakam for what he is.

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Sure Not Now

You just have to dig a little deeper...

Rev up the RPM

Real Plus-Minus is an incredibly nuanced metric that measures a player's per-minute impact on both ends of the court. It takes into account the quality of teammates and opponents and is adjusted for pace.

Unlike raw plus-minus, RPM sees when players have inflated stats due to simply playing with strong teammates or against weaker units. It doesn't take into account pre-conceived notions about a player or future potential, simply what value a player has added on a per-minute scale to this point.

In terms of catch-all metrics, it's the most sophisticated one that's publicly available.

Going by this measure, Siakam has been the NBA's sixth-best big man so far this season. Better than Joel Embiid. Better than Draymond Green. Better than Blake Griffin.

The only bigs that rank higher than Siakam in RPM? Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Vucevic. Not bad company.

Driving the narrative

Watch a few possessions when Siakam is in the game and you'll no doubt witness a newfound confidence in putting the ball on the floor and attacking the paint. He does it in the half court and he does it in transition. He does it against bigs, he does it after switches.

If it feels like he's great at finishing on those it's because he is.

So far this season, there are over 100 players attempting at least five drives per game (min. 15 games). Siakam's 70.2 field goal percentage on shots off drives ranks first among all of them, a big reason why he also is currently second in the NBA in 2-point field goal percentage, a stat usually dominated by the lob-catching, put-back types in the mold of Clint Capela or DeAndre Jordan.

It's a part of his game that's taken off in Year 3. Last season, Siakam averaged just over 3 drives per game while shooting 51.3 percent.

And it's not just the finishing either, as he's only turned the ball over eight times on 187 drives. In terms of the percent of his drives that result in a turnover, Siakam ranks among the ten best in the league at taking care of the ball.

Most Valuable Raptor?

Kawhi Leonard might win the MVP award.

Kyle Lowry will once again make the All-Star team.

They are without a doubt the two best players on the Raptors and if they are going to contend for a title, it begins with those two. Let's get that out of the way first.

Now...

Pascal Siakam is someone who makes timely, winning plays. He's the type of player you'd say makes all sorts of things happen on a basketball court that contribute to winning, things that don't show up in the box score.

Which is where the concept of Win Probability Added comes into play.

Inpredictable.com is a great website with lots of awesome tools that might challenge how you watch games. One of the tools is individual Win Probability Added (WPA). Essentially, every single play in a game - a made shot, an assist, a turnover, a rebound, etc. - has an impact on a team's chances of winning or losing a game. A defensive rebound midway through the second quarter obviously does not have the same impact as say a potential game-winning shot down one point in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. WPA takes all of that into account.

Add up every play over the course of a season and you can see how much a player has contributed to his team's bottom line.

It's not attempting to say who has been the best player. It's saying who has made the biggest impact on a team's chances to win games. By this metric, it's Siakam that has been the Raptors' most impactful player. In fact, his WPA so far this season is more than Leonard and Lowry combined and ranks tied with Joel Embiid for 10th in the entire league.

Again ... Toronto will only go as far as Leonard and Lowry take them. But when considering the value of someone like Siakam, this might shift just how much importance is given to a player averaging fewer than 15 points per game.

A wrinkle in due time

Serge Ibaka is having the best season of his career.

Jonas Valanciunas is feasting on second units.

Greg Monroe as a third centre is a nice luxury.

And with the Raptors looking like the class of the East a third of the way through the regular season, there quite frankly has not been a need to trot out a lineup in which none of them have been on the floor.

In fact, the Raptors have only played 23 total minutes this season with Siakam at centre. It's a tantalizing thought and one that come playoff time, Toronto has the personnel to pull out for extended stretches should it choose to. A Siakam-Leonard-Anunoby-Green-Lowry lineup could potentially give fits and serve as a key small ball lineup depending on matchups.

In the preseason, assistant coach Phil Handy raved about Siakam's defensive versatility and ability to play 1 through 5 on both ends. It's a necessity not yet needed and one that might not be realized until June. As you watch Siakam flourish with his ever-growing responsibility and daydream about the possibilities of how he might look fully unleashed, keep this one in your back pocket. Remember ... there was a time when Draymond Green didn't play centre either.

Stay tuned.

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