The Eastern Conference has its fair share of dominant teams. While teams like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Indiana, and Boston are all sitting at or above .600, the Toronto Raptors have proven themselves a step above everyone else. They not only currently have the best record in the East, but in the entire league.
Their success has been a product of many changes from past iterations of the team. Toronto gained new identity with the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Nick Nurse has flourished in the head coaching role after being promoted in the offseason. Young players, like Fred Van Vleet and OG Anunoby, stepping up and contributing have helped make this one of the deepest rosters in the league.
One young Raptor in particular has grown beyond the role player title and developed into an integral part of this team’s core. Pascal Siakam is having himself a season. Not only is his big step forward giving the Toronto Raptors an extra push to possibly win the conference- it should have him as a clear favorite for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
Improvement in a player’s third year in the league is to be expected, but not normally to the extent to which Siakam’s game has grown. He is quietly putting up some of the most impressive numbers in the league.
Pascal Siakam is tied for 18th in Real Plus-Minus, and one of only five players with 2+ Offensive and 1.5+ Defensive Real Plus-Minus. The other four players are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, and Paul George. Siakam has an incredible 4.69 RPM wins already, ranking him 16th in the league. He is the only player on a rookie deal with at least 4 RPM wins. Only three other players on a rookie deal have at least 3 RPM wins, in Ben Simmons, Luka Doncic, and De’Aaron Fox.
When he is on the court, he makes an impact. Seven of the Toronto Raptors 10 best lineups feature Siakam. Toronto’s 115.3 offensive rating falls to a 102.4 when Pascal Siakam sits, and their defensive rating worsens by 2.3 points, as well. His exceptional ability to take care of business efficiently on the offense contributes to a big plus in both assist percentage and assist to turnover ratio. While not monumental, the team sees a slight boost in rebounding percentage when he is playing, also.
One of the biggest parts of Siakam’s game that continues to wow the league is how he scores. He is an absolute force when he makes his way to the rim. What has become his moth lethal go-to is his spin move at the rim. A perfect combination of athleticism and size help the big man maneuver his way into being one of the most efficient scorers in the game. Of players with at least five attempts at within five feet, Siakam’s incredible 69.8 percent efficiency places him seventh in the league from this area.
He is the only player in this top seven to average at least 0.5 3’s a game, a testament to his ability to provide floor stretching along with an elite inside game. Among players with at least a 30 percent efficiency from deep, Siakam is fifth in overall percentage. No player ahead of him attempts more than 0.7 3’s a game compared to Pascal’s 2.1, however. The young Raptor has a trajectory to be a perfect stretch big in today’s game.
His improvement isn’t just a product of heightened usage or playing time, either. Though he is playing more minutes compared to the past season, his numbers per 100 possessions show his growth. Only averaging 0.7 more field goal attempts, Siakam is shooting 9.6 percent better overall and 14.7 percent better from deep. Combined with a 2.1 boost in free throw attempts, he is six more points than last season per 100 possesions.
Despite strong showings early on, player such as Caris LeVert, who is out with injury, or Zach LaVine, whose game has cooled down some, have started to fall back, or out entirely, of the race for the award. Big seasons for players like Spencer Dinwiddie or De’Aaron Fox will bring recognition their way, and rightfully so. However, with such impressive numbers and growth even beyond what is expected for a young player, Pascal Siakam is the clear-cut front runner for the Most Improved Player Award.