Toronto Raptors: Is Pascal Siakam the Answer at Back up Centre?

Oct 3, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s early, but the Toronto Raptors have found something in Pascal Siakam. It’s impossible to tell how high the ceiling really is for an undersized centre, but for a team that can only improve internally that’s huge.

The Toronto Raptors have always felt like they’re one or two players away from being an extremely dangerous team. They’re very ugly to watch at times; with an offense named The Ball Handler & The Scarecrows combined with lots of contested mid-rangers, but it has brought Toronto to 56 wins. Regular season wins don’t necessarily lead to postseason success and the Raptors are still non-threatening to the league’s very best teams.

Now that our father, Bismack Biyombo has left in free agency the wheels are starting to fall of the Raptors wagon. Biyombo left and took the back up centre role with him and Dwane Casey and staff have to look for a replacement internally.

The preseason is a proving ground for young and trying players alike, with Lucas Nogueria, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam all on the roster Casey has made the statement loud and clear that the back up centre position is up for grabs.

Toronto Raptors
May 17, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey during the second quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Biyombo created a centre vacuum that should have easily been filled by Nogueria, but something interesting has happened over the last few weeks for the Raptors, Siakam looks like a real, live NBA player.

Siakam plays the game with a ton of energy and it hasn’t gone unnoticed, during the preseason he has been the first of the 3 centers to get rotated onto the floor. Siakam stands at 6′, 9.5″ and keeps getting touted as a power forward due to his height he also has a 7’3″ wingspan which allows him to play the center position.

The Raptors only need a center that can defend and rebound, which Siakam has proved this preseason that he can do. Siakam’s defensive malleability is what is what sets him apart from his contemporaries in the rotation. He’s not only able to cover big men with his size and length but he’s capable of a every coach’s dream being a big man who is capable of stepping out on the perimeter.

Notice how Siakam crowds Kevin Durant to take away his jumpshot, bigs never do that. A big’s gameplan versus any perimeter player, let alone Durant is to fall back a few steps, relinquishing the open mid ranger so the defender can contain the drive. Siakam can ditch that strategy and take away the midranger immediately. Siakam keeps his hands active which forces Durant to drive.

Durant is 7 foot tall and beats Siakam off the dribble, but Siakam has the athleticism to catch up after being beaten on the first step. He slides his feet to constantly have his body in the path of the drive and in position to make the block (and keep it in bounds). Patrick Patterson does a great job helping but the block is Siakam’s and his alone.

That’s an alleged big man shutting down Durant off the dribble and at the rim in the same possession. Nogueria nor Poeltl can do that in their current form and neither project to do be able to do that throughout their development.

The sheer size of Siakam is misleading, he’s just small enough for people to discredit his ability on the boards while also being just tall enough for people to anticipate a lead-footed fellow.

If Siakam doesn’t sink down to check the roller, that’s a clear dunk the stop in the paint is the correct decision. But Siakam is also able to leave the paint, and run to Norman Powell‘s man in the corner to block the shot. In fact, he leaves the ground at the exact same time as the shooter however his extendo arms create the block.

Defensive versatility is a godsend in the NBA because it lets the coach worry about one less gear in the grandfather clock of the defense. Just like Draymond Green, shooters tend to underestimate his foot speed and wingspan and they pay dearly for it. His ability defies his detractors, especially when it comes to the boards.

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Fans once criticized Roy Hibbert (before he became a form of crypto currency)  for his horrid rebounding numbers even though his team rebounded more effectively when he was on the court than off the court. The secret to that was that he was so adept at boxing out he focused on that instead of rebounding so his other teammates could get boards.

Siakam frequently does the same, using his long wingspan to trap others behind him. Siakam meshes perfectly with Jared Sullinger, who is prolific for his rebounding. Sullinger is a positional rebounder so Siakam’s ability to create even more space with his body would lead to an inflation of Sullinger’s rebounding totals.

Although Siakam is great at boxing out, don’t let the strategy fool you — Siakam is an exceptional athletic rebounder. Those box outs don’t count towards any of his personal stats but it helps the team. And when Siakam does have to grab boards himself he skies for them

He’s a bouncy player all around and he makes second or even third attempts on rebounds. His hands are soft, and can make difficult catches through passes or from carrums off the rim. And Siakam recognizes his strengths and crashes the offensive boards whenever possible which is an asset for a team that has guards generate the majority of the shots.

Siakam plays with an electric energy about him, he’s very active in every facet of his game. When he boxes out, runs on the break or defends there is feeling that radiates from him, everything is done with exuberance. Although Coaches love the youthful enthusiasm it does have drawbacks, especially at this level.

It’s evident that he’s playing the game slightly too fast. He’ll waste energy on beating every other player down the floor with no feasible passing angle and he sometimes sprints with his head down making the pass unavailable as well as dislocating the ball for himself. Defensively, his hands are active which can be exploited in the regular season by a seasoned veteran looking to draw an easy foul. Next time he meets Durant that rip-through move is definitely going to make an appearance

His energy is positive though, since Siakam would only be playing about 10 -16 minutes per game he can go full tilt. His active hands wont lead him into foul trouble if he doesn’t have enough time to truly draw the 6 fouls and an active body on the boards is better than nobody.

Next: 3 ways Cory Joseph can improve for the Raptors

It’s early, but the Raptors have found something in Siakam. It’s impossible to tell how high Pascal Siakam’s ceiling really is as an undersized centre but for a Raptors team that can only improve internally that’s huge.