The Pascal Siakam conundrum the Raptors need to solve
The Toronto Raptors and Pascal Siakam are in a bit of a weird situation right now.
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster has committed to fully rebuilding the Raptors after trading away Kyle Lowry to the Heat and drafting Scottie Barnes fourth overall in the 2021 draft. That first part is not surprising; many people foretold a Raptors rebuild after Kawhi Leonard dipped out of Toronto. However, the second part is what’s confusing Raptors fans: why draft a prospect who plays the same position as your de facto franchise cornerstone?
Both Ujiri and Webster have all publicly come out to say that Siakam will remain a Raptor for the foreseeable future. However, it’s fair to wonder if the Raptors FO will keep their word. We’ve all seen them trade away beloved franchise star DeMar DeRozan as soon as a trade for Leonard was available.
Let’s look at the two potential scenarios of Pascal Siakam’s future, one where he stays, and one where he’s traded somewhere else.
The Spice Stays North
Let’s say that the Raptors do commit to a future with Siakam. The Raptors young core moving forward would consist of 2020 draftee Malachi Flynn, Precious Achiuwa (who was acquired in the Lowry Trade), OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and Pascal Siakam.
That’s an intriguing list of players, for sure. The last three names are the ones that are the notables of that potential core. Anunoby’s offense has flown under the radar, but he has had noticeable improvements over the last two seasons. Of course, his defense has still remained excellent. Barnes enters the league as an all-around player, and he showed this during the summer league. He averaged 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1 steal per game.
And of course, the de facto leader here is Siakam. He’s had a pretty good two seasons for being the guy for the Raptors; 22.2 points, 4.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. The reasoning for him being the franchise cornerstone seems to have no flaws, at least.
Or does it? Siakam has been plagued with inconsistency issues since Kawhi left the Raptors. Part of it may be the pressure of being the primary guy on offense: the eye test showed he worked better as a secondary/tertiary option behind Kawhi and Lowry in their Finals run. He also has lost his three-point shot, from 36.0% in his All-Star season to a ghastly 29.7% last season. Simply put, Siakam cannot provide the same level of output when he’s the focus of the offense.
His fit with newcomer Scottie Barnes also comes into question. Barnes plays the same position as Siakam, and both play the same style (questionable three-point shooting at times, Draymond Green-lite game). The big difference is that Siakam is already 27 years old, which is an awkward age for a rebuilding timeline. Barnes, on the other hand, is 20, has plenty of room to grow, and has the benefit of having the best player development team in the Raptors.
The NBA Spice Trade
This brings to the next part of this discussion: if Siakam does become available for trade talks, who should be the teams interested in bringing him in?
Siakam’s role is definitely to be a release valve on offense, not the main creator. When teams used to double Kawhi Leonard, Spicy P was often the one receiving the pass and creating off of the 4-on-3. He’s also an excellent defender, using his long arms to lock down opposing players or disrupt passing lanes. Sans his bad three-point shooting last season, Siakam is an excellent piece for any team who’s “one piece away”.
The Golden State Warriors are a team that was rumored to be heavily interested in Siakam before the draft. A rumored trade back then included the 7th pick that became Jonathan Kuminga, along with James Wiseman and potential salary filler (which could have been Andrew Wiggins). This could definitely still happen, and the fit is amazing, but as it stands, the Warriors aren’t looking for any major trades.
Another interesting team for Pascal Siakam would be the Portland Trail Blazers. There were reports of a CJ McCollum-Siakam swap earlier in the off-season. That’s exactly the kind of move the Blazers need to do to keep Damian Lillard in town. Siakam would greatly benefit off of the gravity of Lillard, and if he recovers his stroke from deep, he’d be an amazing floor-spacer for Nurkic to work.
A rather impossible but very interesting scenario that’s been floating in my mind is a reunion with DeRozan in Chicago with the Bulls. The Bulls have next to nothing to match salaries with Siakam, unless they trade one of their core four players (DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, and Nikola Vucevic). But if they do get the itch to trade one of them, Siakam is a option they should look into.
Siakam’s career has gone on a weird up-and-down trajectory since his break out in the 2019 Playoffs. He was an All-Star in the 2019 – 2020 season, but then the pandemic and the long break derailed his performances. He was then pretty low-key the following season, as the Raptors missed the Playoffs for the first time in seven years.
The Raptors brass are still high on Siakam’s potential. They believe that the Anunoby-Siakam-Barnes core will work wonders. And it could surely work: the trio has enough length and size between them to be a terrifying force. But a down year for Pascal Siakam, or a lucrative enough trade from a team, will likely lead to the Spice leaving Canada.