As the dust settles from the Toronto Raptors' first championship, we're rolling out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of the team from this past season. Before turning the page into the 2019-20 season as free agency begins, we'll take a closer look back at how everyone performed in 2018-19.
After looking at Kawhi Leonard and Nick Nurse, here's Pascal Siakam's grade for the 2018-19 season.
Pascal Siakam's third season in the NBA was remarkable. The breakout forward exceeded expectations in every way shape or form, proving he's one of the brightest young talents the league has to offer.
Under a new head coach in Nick Nurse, Siakam was given more freedom than ever before to expand his game and take on a larger role. From the get-go, Siakam was a focal point in the offence - he was getting more touches and made the most of those opportunities. After averaging 8.0 points through the first five games of the season, Siakam rattled off double digits in scoring for 19 of Toronto's next 20 games, proving he was here to make an impact.
Nurse trusted Siakam to handle the ball a lot more, pushing the pace in transition and attacking the rim often. This flexibility played a key role in the Raptors' ability to up the tempo against teams, and his early success finishing at the hoop forced defences to collapse on his drives, freeing up better looks for his teammates.
His increased role wasn't just on the offensive end either - Siakam's defensive assignments grew tougher as the season went on. There are a few matchups that jump off the page when looking at NBA.com's matchup data: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin to name a couple, but even more impressively, Russell Westbrook.
That continued in the playoffs, as Siakam was responsible for marking the opposing team's key offensive playmakers such as Ben Simmons in the second round and Draymond Green in the Finals.
Who would have guessed that Siakam - a player who has been playing basketball for roughly eight years of his life to this point - would take on the responsibility of trying to shut down former MVPs, current MVPs and future Hall of Famers in crucial games just three years into the league? And on top of that, he provided a significant chunk of his team's offence on the road to pursuing a championship.
To give you an idea of just how much Siakam improved this season, he achieved career-highs in points (16.9), rebounds (6.9), assists (3.1), steals (0.9) and minutes (31.9) while shooting career-marks from the field (54.9%), 3-point range (36.9%) and free throw line (78.5%). That's essentially every single major traditional stat category.
If that doesn't make him a clear selection for Most Improved Player, try this: Siakam snapped his single-game career-high in scoring seven times this season. He eclipsed career single-game marks in minutes played, points, rebounds, assists, steals and 3-pointers made this season, too.
To add to that, after a rather underwhelming playoffs a season ago, it took Siakam one game to set his postseason single game career-highs in points, rebounds and assists.
With all that being said, take a look at some of the Siakam's best individual moments from this season:
- Dropping 30 on the Bucks - Jan. 5, 2019: The Bucks had the best record in the Eastern Conference for every day of the season up until this game. Milwaukee took the first meeting between these teams, but Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo both sat out. Now with each team at full strength, the game had much more meaning. Siakam went for 30 points - a new career-high at the time - and the Raptors won the game to overtake first place.
- A new career-high, going for 44 vs. Wizards - Feb. 13, 2019: It was a Kawhi Leonard "load management" game, so the Raptors needed a scoring boost from someone. Siakam assured Toronto would secure the win, going for a new career-high of 44 points in a double-double effort that included 10 boards. His scoring was efficient, shooting 15-for-25 from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
- 33, 13 and 6 vs. Thunder - March 20, 2019: Yes, it's impressive that Siakam had 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a win, but that's not the point here. This was one of the most impressive games I saw from Siakam this season. Russell Westbrook was tearing up the Raptors - he finished with 42 points - but Nurse made the adjustment to put Siakam on Westbrook. Even though Westbrook went for 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field with Pascal guarding him, Siakam forced Westbrook to turn the ball over five times. This was a game where Siakam's potential really shone, proving he has what it takes to put up big numbers and mark the opposing team's biggest threat.
- 29 points in Game 1 vs. 76ers in East Semifinals: Siakam was solid in the first round against the Magic, but it was refreshing to see him keep that same intensity in the playoffs against a championship-calibre team. He took advantage of a faulty game plan that didn't focus on his offensive ability and made the 76ers pay, going for 29 points on 12-for-15 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 from long range to get the series started in the Raptors' favour.
- Down 2-0 vs. Bucks, goes for 25 points: Should the Raptors have lost Game 3 and gone down 3-0, that could have been the season. Leonard's 36 points led the team, but Siakam went for a double-double of 25 points (9-18 FG) and 11 rebounds to give Toronto the win and keep them within striking distance in the series.
- 32-point explosion in first Finals game: The stage doesn't get any brighter than the Finals, and Siakam stepped up to the task to get the series trending in the right direction for the Raptors. He scored a team-high 32 points (14-17 FG), setting a new playoff career-high, while also adding eight rebounds and five assists to the box score.
Siakam's value to this franchise's future cannot be overstated, especially after the potential he showed this past season as a major key on a championship roster.
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