By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist
After helping lead the Toronto Raptors to their first championship in franchise history, forward Pascal Siakam and the Raptors may have the chance to make even more history after a hot start to this season.
In a breakout season last year, Siakam averaged 16.9 points, 3.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds as the third option on a championship caliber roster. Going from averaging only 11.5 points per game combined in his first two years in the league to becoming a near 20-point per game scorer, Siakam was awarded the Most Improved Player award and was seen as one of the league’s rising stars.
Now as a 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward with the measurables to be a top two-way in the league, Siakam came into this season with a newly embraced role and the chance to really shine with the departure of all-star forward Kawhi Leonard.
This season, Siakam has been asked by Toronto’s head coach Nick Nurse to step up as the team’s primary scoring option. Not only has he done that so far this season, but he is exceeding expectations. With five games of 30+ plus points, Siakam has improved even more and is doing it at an outstanding rate.
Averaging 27.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists, Siakam is amongst the top scorers in the league as he is ranked eighth in points per game. At the pace that he is on right now, he has the chance to be the first back-to-back Most Improved Player award winner in league history and may even be up for consideration in the MVP discussion as we progress through the year.
Not only has Siakam improved and exceeded expectations, but so has the entire Raptors team. Despite it only being less than 20 games into the season, Toronto has had a better start to the season than most would have assumed. Having no Kawhi Leonard, an aging guard in Kyle Lowry and a roster full of older veterans on the back end of their primes, this team was supposed to be a team in massive decline.
Instead, young players like guard Fred Vanvleet and forward OG Anunoby have stepped up as double-digit scorers and have really embraced their enhanced roles, showing that despite all the age on the roster, the Raptors have a reliable young core to build around for the future.
With no truly defined superstar, the Raptors have excelled while relying on their depth and team-oriented style of play. Toronto has five players averaging double figures in points and eight players averaging 20+ minutes played per game. Similar to comparable teams in the league like the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs, this team is succeeding on the back of elite coaching, ball movement and the development of the team’s young players.
Now sitting at fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 8 – 4, the Raptors continue to be off the radar while fans and analysts continue to focus on teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. Nonetheless, they continue to thrive in the background and have a chance to surprise people with a playoff berth in what was supposed to be a “down year.”
With an improving young core of Siakam, Vanfleet and Anunoby mixed with a brilliant front office, led by General Manager Masai Ujiri, the defending champs have the requisite weapons to go on a real playoff push and defend their crown.