Will Pascal Siakam make an All-NBA team?
Although last year's Most Improved Player isn't in line to win any individual awards this season, he's certainly in the mix to snag one of the prized 15 All-NBA spots.
And why wouldn't he?
Siakam started the All-Star Game. He's the leading scorer on the team with the NBA's third-best record. He's been from start to finish one of the league's top 15 players and he's grown by leaps and bounds to the point where the reigning Most Improved Player could have once again been in the running to win it again.
And yet Siakam's case for an All-NBA spot is more complicated than perhaps what might assume.
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Let's run through some factors and then break down Siakam's competition one by one.
Is Anthony Davis a centre?
Of the six forward spots, three are locks... and potentially a fourth. Remember, unlike All-Star voting which splits players between frontcourt and backcourt, the All-NBA teams do make a distinction between forwards and centres. Three centres, six forwards and six guards.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James are the favourites for Most Valuable Player and almost certainly will make the All-NBA First Team. Kawhi Leonard is having arguably the best season of his career, could finish third in MVP voting and will in all likelihood snap a spot on the All-NBA Second Team.
But what about Anthony Davis?
For the majority of the season, he's functioned as a power forward as 62% of his minutes have come alongside either Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee. While there's some leniency with positions when it comes to making All-NBA decisions, it's hard to justify sliding Davis up to a centre spot when he's started precisely zero games there. Yes, he's previously made a pair of All-NBA First Teams as a centre, but in both instances - 2016-17 and 2017-18 - he played at least half of his minutes at the five.
If there was a lack of qualified centres, perhaps there would be more wiggle room. But with the likes of Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert and Bam Adebayo, there are plenty of All-NBA centres left to fill out the teams.
Others might disagree and this could prove false in the long run, but I'm going to operate under the assumption that Davis ultimately counts as a forward and will slot in alongside Leonard. Thus... only two forward spots remain.
What does Kyle Lowry have to do with it?
He's a guard. On the surface, it shouldn't matter. Siakam isn't competing with his own teammate.
And yet, there will be some who balk at the notion of two Raptors accounting for 15 of the precious spots.
It's an entirely different rabbit hole, but Lowry stands a good chance of making it. After James Harden, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard, it's pretty wide open thanks to some usual suspects (Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker) missing significant chunks of time to varying degrees.
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Lowry is part of that conversation which will include Trae Young, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul, among others.
Since neither Lowry nor Siakam are the shoo-in, "no doubt about it" types, there could be some hesitancy to award two different fringe contenders from the same team. Could they both make it? Sure. But it could easily be one or the other and there's no clear sign pointing towards one over the other.
I see six players for two spots. In addition to Siakam, the biggest competition at forward remains Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis and Brandon Ingram.
For the sake of being thorough, some other names:
- Zion Williamson... didn't play enough games.
- Bam Adebayo... too much time at centre.
- LaMarcus Aldridge... maybe if the Spurs were in the playoffs.
- Bojan Bogdanovic, Kristaps Porzingis and Danilo Gallinari... it's just not happening.
Anyways, if viewing the race for those final two spots through the prism of Siakam vs The Other 5, here's how he stacks up against all of them in order of how I'd currently handicap the contenders.
Domantas Sabonis. He's flourished and become The Guy for the Indiana Pacers, at least temporarily until Victor Oladipo fully recovers. Like Siakam, Sabonis earned his first All-Star appearance in large part because he blossomed into the NBA's most effective playmakers from the elbows. In addition to working that in-between game as both a scorer and passer, Sabonis has become a double-double machine, ranking third behind only Antetokounmpo and Hassan Whiteside.
And yet it's Siakam here who went 3-0 in head-to-head matchups with Sabonis while outplaying him. Toss in Toronto's superior record and Siakam's the pick.
Brandon Ingram. Another fellow first-time All-Star, Ingram's emergence as a certifiable bucket getter has him squarely in the mix for Most Improved Player. He's started the most games for a team that's been decimated by injury and is in line for a massive payday this summer. Any hopes of making All-NBA probably rests on the Pelicans making the playoffs which remains even more of a mystery now given the uncertainty of how the rest of the season will play out. Even if they were to climb into the top eight, there's the division of credit issue that Ingram would run into with rookie sensation Zion Williamson. If Williamson is the biggest reason for the Pelicans' second-half surge but isn't himself likely to earn honours due to time missed, it's hard to imagine Ingram making it in his stead.
Khris Middleton. Until Milwaukee's recent rough patch, I would have tentatively pencilled in Middleton for one of the two spots on the All-NBA Third Team. Had the Bucks won 70 games, I just don't see how they could only get one player especially given the year Middleton's had. This is not a "Mo Williams on the 2009 Cavs" situation.
He's fallen EVERSOSLIGHTLY but Milwaukee's main sidekick is still threatening to average over 20 points per game on 50-40-90 shooting. It's impossible to overstate how impressive that is. It's only been done five times in NBA history and each time it's resulted in an All-NBA First Team selection. Not Third. Not Second. FIRST.
Given the skepticism over the Bucks, I wouldn't be shocked if Middleton comes up short as the Bucks falter a bit off that 70-win pace.
Jimmy Butler. There's going to be a big narrative push for Butler given the hand he's played in remaking the Miami Heat on the fly. And while they slowed down after the calendar flipped to 2020, the Heat remain a viable contender in the East in part thanks to a pair of resounding wins over the Milwaukee Bucks. There's a similar situation likely to be played out with regards to Butler and Adebayo. Although both likely won't make All-NBA, I get the feeling that at least one of them should. If Adebayo is beaten out by Gobert (or even Sabonis, who we should mention could make it as a centre as well), does that mean Butler's chances suddenly go up?
Siakam beat out Butler for a starting spot in the All-Star Game and right now, I'd have him beating out Butler for All-NBA as well. Many of the advanced metrics - Win Shares, Box Plus-Minus, PER - favour Butler who grossly outplayed Siakam in their one meeting this season .
Jayson Tatum. The emergence of Tatum over the last six weeks of the regular season has been one of the NBA's best stories. Shortly after actually making the All-Star team, Tatum reached another level to the point where he all of the sudden was starting to get some top-10 buzz. Coupled with the injury to Kemba Walker, Tatum has clearly established himself as the number one option now and moving forward in Boston.
So how does he compare to Siakam? Though their games are almost nothing alike, the production is eerily similar. Where's that spiderman meme when you need one?
If it comes down to Tatum vs Siakam, there could be some recency bias working against Siakam. Although he had the much stronger start to the season, there's no question that Tatum has had the leg up over the back end which will resonate and likely hang in the air a bit longer.
The final verdict
I think it will come down to Siakam, Butler and Middleton for that final spot.
Given Tatum's play over the last few months, I find it hard to believe he won't ultimately make it. If it were up to me, I'd put Siakam on the third team not only as a testament to his play from the opening game but also the progress he's made in catapulting from high-end role player to bonafide star.
So much can happen between now and when the final determination is made. If the regular season resumes, throw it all out the window because there's simply too much basketball left to be played with plenty of time to sort it out. But as it stands now, I'd have Siakam on All-NBA Third Team.
The views here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.