Is Pascal Siakam the Raptors' #1 option of the future?

Amit Mann and Sean Woodley discuss Pascal Siakam's unique career trajectory and whether they have confidence he can become the undisputed marquee player on a championship level team. Listen to the full episode on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: When I said this to you, I realized when I was going to go to sleep. And I'm like, wait, he might think that I'm talking-- I'm talking a lot about crunch time. Crunch time, fourth quarter, two minutes left, three minutes left, is he a person that can get you a bucket? And I really do hate phrasing it that way. But sometimes, as you know, when it comes down to it-- two minutes left, NBA finals, game 6-- it kind of does come down to that. And we saw with Kawhi Leonard.

SEAN WOODLEY: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it's all degrees with Pascal Siakam too, right? I think just in general, if you think Pascal Siakam, if you're building your framing of, oh, is he like a number one option around the idea of is he the best player in a championship team? No, I don't think he is. I don't think that's ever been the case. So I don't think my opinion is changed there.

I don't think Pascal is one of the seven best players alive. And there are maybe seven players who can be the best player on a championship team. That's just the way basketball works, barring some random happenstance where a Pistons team loaded with incredible talent going all the way to the 2004 finals beating the Lakers. That doesn't happen very often.


SEAN WOODLEY: It's a very rare situation where you don't have one of these seven precious guys, you're probably not winning a championship. But I don't think Pascal is that guy. I don't think he's ever been that guy. I think he's flirted with maybe looking like he could be on the fringes of being one of those guys at times.

But ultimately, the shot-making has never quite been at that sort of elite efficient level that you want. And that's I think fine. As far as late-game situations, there is a track record of Pascal Siakam being part of very good crunch time teams. You think back to the 2019--


SEAN WOODLEY: --'20 team, they spammed Pascal-Lowry pick and roll. Whichever way you wanted to run it, Pascal screening, Kyle screening, that two-man action was the backbone of the second best crunch time offense in the entire NBA. They were really bloody good. And Pascal was a walking bucket in those situations. Pascal and Fred, their two-man action has been a reliable way to get late game buckets.


SEAN WOODLEY: Do I think just like toss the ball to Pascal, have him iso some dudes and go and score buckets over top of guys? No, that's not him. Can he be a part of a very efficient crunch time offense? Absolutely, he's proven he can. But he did last year where he was everything for the crunch time offense. He was creating everything and the initiating sort of guy behind every good thing that happened on offense for the team. And they were a very good crunch time team once again.

And I think if you have the right pieces around him, then, yeah, he can be your number one. If you don't have the right pieces around him, then no. And I think the question right now that is, I think, really fascinating and probably the biggest question facing the Raptors is, is that Pascal-Scottie YAC frontcourt viable with the lack of shooting across those three guys? And how does the sort of crunch spacing with those guys affect Pascal Siakam?

Clearly, adversely, right now, he's not getting the same quality looks. He's not getting the same space to work with. Teams don't care about guarding most of the players on the floor when he's got the ball in his hands. And so you've got to work through this stuff. Is this stuff that could be worked through and sort of ironed out going into next season? Probably, but I don't begrudge anyone who's already kind of looking at the crunch spacing, the fact that the Raptors are 21st in offense since--


SEAN WOODLEY: --the Jakob Poeltl trade and saying, hey, maybe there's some issue here that has arisen from bringing Jakob Poeltl into the mix and how does that affect Pascal Siakam and his ability to be his best. And he obviously has not been his best of late.

I don't know if it's a long-term trend to expect or if it's just the acclimation period you tend to bake in whenever a new big piece comes to a team, but it's certainly something to watch and one of the biggest storylines for the rest of the season to be sure. And I think with a guy like Pascal who's not one of those precious seven guys or eight guys, whoever it is you can lead yourself to a title, the context of the team around him is imperative.

And the context right now, it's gotten better in some ways with the arrival of Jakob Poeltl. It's gotten more difficult in other ways with the arrival of Jakob Poeltl. And I still think this is a fact-finding mission for the rest of the season to figure out, all right, is this viable? Is this worth seeing again next year? Or do we have our answer pretty quickly here as to, all right, these are the issues, and here are potential options to go and fix that issues?

AMIT MANN: The [? talk ?] with Pascal is that for a little while now, he has been operating from the middle of the floor which is a unique place. Not many players want to gravitate towards that spot. But from his perspective--

SEAN WOODLEY: I understand.

AMIT MANN: --he's thinking, I have angles everywhere. I have shooters in the corners. There's a lot of space for me to operate. And probably during the offseason with Rico Hines, he's thinking, this is where I'm going to do my thing. And then Jakob Poeltl comes.

And now, there's a lot less of that because of the success of the Poeltl and Fred VanVleet pick and roll which we'll get to you in a second. But now, he's having to operate from different spots on the wings a lot. And now the angles are different. The doubles are coming from different spots. The trajectory towards the rim is different. And he's probably just adjusting to that as well.

I've been intrigued by his 3-point shot because there has been moments where you're just like, wow, so that was a pretty-- he got that off pretty quickly. And it's catch and shoot from different spots. It's not always the baseline. Sometimes it's a 45. Sometimes it's above the break. And that's all well and good, but the consistency has not been there from him.

But then sometimes, you see flashes. Like in that Clippers game, he takes Kawhi Leonard 1-on-1. There's a double coming from Zoubek. And then he spins around both of them and gets a layup. You're just like, wow, that was athletic. That was crisp. He was confident.

And I don't always find that it seems like there's a lot of mental gymnastics happening in those moments where he gets the ball with the few minutes left. And the spacing is there for him. It's an organized play. And he gets the shot he wants. It looks like it's going to win. And then it just doesn't. They don't.

SEAN WOODLEY: Yeah, it happens like make or miss league, Doug. Shout out, Dwane Casey. And ultimately, if you miss more often than you make in those situations, you're going to have your-- reputation is going to be created, fair or not. And I do--


SEAN WOODLEY: --the context around those certain situations and those certain late game moments certainly-- it matters, right? It's not just--


SEAN WOODLEY: --the Pascal is bad in crunch time or not. It's what are the reasons why Pascal is not performing well in crunch time? And also, they're making the fact he's played the most minutes of any player in the league since he came back from injury, right? There's probably late fatigue building up here too. It's just-- it's not all as black and white as everyone wants it to be.

And I know the sort of-- there's a certain section of the fan base. And look, I'm not here to say who's right or wrong. I don't think this is right to think, but I know there are certain sections of the fan base who think Pascal is not good enough get, rid of him. You just can't build a good team with him. I think that's wrong. Maybe you can't build a championship contender if he's your best player, but I also don't really subscribe to the idea that job one is building a championship contender.

I don't know who's like, [GASP] what? No, you got to walk before you can run. Build a good team first and then use your good position and status within the league to pivot into being great. That's what the Raptors just did in the last decade. Pascal Siakam, I'm sorry to say for all the DeMar lovers out there. He's a better player than DeMar DeRozan ever was with the Toronto Raptors. Just two-way excellence, he's better.


SEAN WOODLEY: Full stop, a better player. They-- there was no-- for five years building that team with DeMar, six years building that team with DeMar, there was no-- I mean, I'm sure this came up. But the Raptors weren't thrown off the scent of building what they had because the players on their team were not good enough on their own to be the best players on a championship team. No, they built something. And then they got to the point where they could pivot into something else.

And Pascal Siakam is the type of player I think who gets you to that place of being able to pivot into something else. And maybe he eventually is the guy who gets moved as the DeMar as it were in whatever the next big star pivot move trade the Raptors try to make is. But I still think he's very worthwhile trying to keep on this team to see what kind of heights he can bring you with the right team around him, with the proper context, with an actual center now. It's lovely. What a beautiful thing.

And I don't even know if we're going to get all these full answers on who should go, who should stay over the course of 26 games after the trade deadline. And that therein was I think the argument against what the Raptors did at the deadline. I gave it like a C-plus. I could see the logic to it. I might not have done what they did, but they certainly painted themselves into a corner.

And 26 games might not be enough to get answers to these very complex basketball geometry questions that they've kind of presented to themselves with the personnel they have and with the very specific skills and needs that Pascal Siakam has as a number one option.