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Toronto Raptors

Stat Just Happened: What is Pascal Siakam's ceiling as an isolation scorer?

"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

Today, Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam takes the spotlight.

4.4

According to NBA.com, that's how many isolation possessions Pascal Siakam is averaging per game this season.

For context, there are only four players in the entire league averaging more. Those players? James Harden (14.5), Russell Westbrook (7.4), Damian Lillard (4.7) and LeBron James (4.5), each of whom can lay claim to being one of the best isolation scorers in the NBA in the post-Michael Jordan era.

Pretty good company!

However, while he's hanging with the elite when it comes to sheer volume, Siakam ranks in only the 54th percentile when it comes to efficiency with 0.87 points per isolation possession. Cause for concern? It depends on how you look at it, but based on how new this all is to him, it's hard to be overly critical.

If two years ago you would have told anyone - fan, player, coach, owner, referee, photographer - that Siakam would be mentioned in the same breath as those four players when it comes to scoring, you'd have been laughed out of the room. Given the context of Siakam's out-of-this-world emergence, that 0.87 points per possession simply sheds light on unfinished business more than it does sound any real alarms.

Put it this way: Siakam averaged 0.3 isolation possessions per game in the 2017-18 season, putting him on the same page as centres such as Myles Turner, Brook Lopez and Jonas Valanciunas. Last season, that number increased to 1.5, the second-most on the Raptors behind only Kawhi Leonard (3.9). This season, he's almost tripled that total to be among the league leaders.

Siakam has basically gone from playing essentially no one-on-one to being one of the NBA's most frequent isolation players. You'd be hard pressed to find another player in the league whose game has changed that much in such a short period of time.

Pascal Siakam in isolation
Season Frequency Points Per Possession Percentile
2017-18 4.6% 0.85 51.4
2018-19 9.9% 0.97 73.0
2019-20 18.6% 0.87 54.3

It's hard to believe that Siakam can carry an even bigger load considering he's already among the league leaders in isolation possessions per game, but there are still ways he can improve as an isolation scorer.

One thing that should improve as he continues to grow as an isolation scorer is his turnover rate, which currently stands at 10.4 percent for the season. While it's not astronomical compared to some players in the league - Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo turns it over at an even higher rate (12.2 percent), for example - it is when compared to the likes of Harden (6.9 percent), Westbrook (8.4 percent), Lillard (8.8 percent) and James (7.8 percent).

When watching some of the turnovers Siakam has committed in isolation this season, these are the ones that jump out because of how avoidable they are:

It's normal for scorers like Siakam to get tunnel vision from time to time, but he does have a tendency to drive into the teeth of the defence without a clear plan. (Over half of Siakam's turnovers this season have been bad passes or offensive fouls, many of which have come on those sorts of plays). In the future, that's either a kickout to Marc Gasol at the top of the perimeter when Taj Gibson commits to helping out or a drive in the opposite direction, where it isn't nearly as crowded.

Secondly, Siakam should continue to diversify as a scorer.

I've already written about how much Siakam has improved as a shooter this season, not only by extending his range to the top of the 3-point line, but also by improving as a 3-point shooter off the dribble. That's helped him become the isolation scorer he is today because teams can no longer back all the way off of him when he has the ball in his hands in halfcourt settings as Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers did in last season's Eastern Conference Semifinals.

MORE: Siakam has become an entirely new player again

Although it's not the sexiest shot in today's NBA, Siakam would benefit from becoming a more efficient midrange shooter next. According to NBA.com, Siakam has made only 32.1 percent of his midrange shot attempts this season. Of the 79 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from midrange this season, that's the third-worst rate in the league ahead of only Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (25.4 percent) and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (31.0 percent).

The eye test suggests a player that's more dangerous than the numbers might suggest when it comes to that in-between game. I broke down one particular midrange jumper he made against the Detroit Pistons early in the season that was Dirk Nowitzki-like. He has a natural fade on his jump shot, which makes him almost impossible to block seeing as he's 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. He also has an incredibly good handle for a player his size.

Siakam just doesn't appear to be quite as comfortable taking those shots yet, especially when he's being guarded closely by like-sized defenders.

If Siakam can improve from midrange, it would make him a far more dangerous isolation scorer because he would be able to score at all three levels with decent efficiency. It would come in handy when he's matched up with the likes of Anthony Davis and Antetokounmpo, defenders he has struggled to score against this season. They now have to be wary of Siakam on the 3-point line because he's developed into a more versatile perimeter shooter, but him not being much of a threat from midrange means they can retreat to the basket as soon as he steps inside the 3-point line.

And with them being of a similar size, Siakam can't just bulldoze his way to the rim against them.

MORE: How heavy a load can Siakam carry?

Will Siakam ever get to that point? On one hand, it seems silly to believe he won't continue to get better based on how much he has improved over the last two seasons. On the other, it's hard to believe he has another leap in him based on how much he has already improved in his career.

For now, all we have is that one key number...

4.4

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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