Why next week could be the biggest of the season for Raptors' Pascal Siakam

Feb 27 2022, 9:52 pm

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is no stranger to the drama of the NBA.

He’s been through just about it all: playoff heartbreak, an NBA championship in 2019, and the “Tampa Tank” while Toronto played away from home for a season last year, all while having his name in trade rumours every stretch of the way.

Now in his sixth campaign, Siakam is enjoying enough of a strong year that many clamoured for him to be included as an NBA All-Star selection, despite missing the first ten games of the season with a shoulder injury.

And with exactly six weeks remaining in their schedule as of Sunday, Siakam’s Raptors find themselves in a decent spot in the big picture: seventh in the Eastern Conference, with a 32-27 record.

But after an eight-game winning streak from January 29 to February 10, the Raptors have since lost four games of five, including three losses by 25 points or more.

It’s not exactly do-or-die time for the Raptors, with 23 games still remaining in their schedule.

But with five games in the next seven days for Toronto, all eyes will be on Siakam to take a major leap once again to help fix the ailing Raptors.

Raptors’ injuries

The Raptors are dealing with two major injuries right now: a fractured finger from OG Anunoby and knee soreness from Fred VanVleet. Anunoby’s missed the last two games, while VanVleet has played both nights while being listed as questionable during pregame.

As it stands now, neither injury shouldĀ be a long-term issue. Finger fractures usually heal within a matter of weeks, while VanVleet’s MRI came back clean, it was reported last week.

“I’m not gonna make excuses for myself,” VanVleet told reporters Saturday after a 127-100 loss to Atlanta. “[My injury] is not a major thing, but it’s definitely a pain in ass. I’ve got to continue to keep working and rehabbing. I’m trying to be available as much as possible for the team.”

Siakam and VanVleet have been the most consistent offensive drivers for the Raptors this year, putting up an identical 21.4 points per game mark this season.

In his last four games, Siakam’s totaled 57 points, an average of just 14.3 per night.

For as long as VanVleet and Anunoby aren’t up to 100%, Siakam will need to shoulder a larger load at both ends of the floor if the Raptors are hoping to have a successful stretch.

The schedule

The Raptors kick things off tomorrow with two back-to-back games against former Raptor Goran Dragic, who signed with the Nets following a buyout after being traded from Toronto to San Antonio on deadline day.

Toronto plays in Brooklyn Monday before hosting a full capacity crowd on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena for the first time since December. Kevin Durant is likely to miss both games for the Nets with a knee injury, while Ben Simmons is still yet to make his Brooklyn debut as he recovers from a back injury.

Toronto play at home to Detroit Thursday night in a matchup that Raptors fans have come to dread. Under the guidance of former Toronto coach Dwane Casey, the Pistons are 8-3 against the Raptors since 2018-19, including beating them twice already this season. It may be mostly inexplicable considering the Pistons have not won a single playoff game over that timespan, but it’s still a trend Siakam and Toronto should be looking to reverse.

Toronto hosts the Orlando Magic on Friday, who currently sit in 15th place in the Eastern Conference. It’s the team’s last home game until March 18, when LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers visit Toronto.

The Raptors close out the five-in-seven against No. 4 seed Cleveland, who they’ve lost to twice this season, though that includes the 144-99 drubbing on Boxing Day where all five regular Raptors starters were on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list.

It’s not the biggest stage Siakam ever been on, and even a worst-case scenario stretch of 0-5 won’t completely sink the Raptors. But as far as things go this season, it’s hard to imagine a more clear opportunity for Siakam to rise to the challenge as he’ll have this coming week, with something to prove against each and every opponent.

Siakam’s All-NBA push

Making $33 million this season, Siakam’s the 19th highest paid-player in the NBA, and making nearly double than any other current Raptor, save for VanVleet.Ā  Toronto’s trusted Siakam to be a star and he’s played like one, as he’s has averaged 21.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 46 games this season, the latter of which are both career highs.

Siakam is just one of five players along with Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Dejounte Murray to put up averages of 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists this year. All four of those other players qualified for the All-Star Game this year, with Jokic and Antetokounmpo being among the frontrunners for NBA MVP.

The stats back up Siakam as having a strong season, as he’s pushing to be one of 15 players across the league to make the three All-NBA teams come season end.

In a league that’s as narrative-driven as the NBA, his performance over the stretch where his Raptors co-stars are injured could play a major role in his chances of getting there.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

+ Offside
+ Basketball
+ Raptors