May 18, 2019, 11:30 pm
Pascal Siakam may have put forth his worst effort of the postseason on Friday night, scoring eight points on 4-of-9 shooting before fouling out in 26 minutes, on the same day where he was announced as a finalist for Most Improved Player.
It’s an award that he’s still likely to win given his meteoric rise from bench-unit energizer to borderline All-Star, but his rapid growth has created a situation that most teams never have to encounter.
Namely, the Raptors leaned on Siakam a lot in the regular season. Amidst injuries, rest and roster turnover, Siakam and his leaps-and-bounds growth have remained a constant. He became an indispensable part of everything the Raptors do, emerging as a go-to option for a team that figured to lean heavily on its experienced hands.
For as much as Siakam was able to accomplish in the regular season, however, it was destined to come down to what we’ve seen of late. Playoff teams are going to hone in on every potential weakness while scheming extensively to neutralize his strengths. Becoming a regular-season leader is one thing; maintaining that level of output in the postseason is another entirely.
Toronto is now reckoning with an untested playoff performer accounting for a sizable chunk of their productivity, with a major impact on both ends of the court. Siakam’s rapid improvement meant that he skipped a few steps in the normal progression, and to this point the Raptors don’t appear equipped to deal with that reality.
The fact that there’s not enough depth or that other complementary players have vanished cannot rest on Siakam. In case this needs to be clarified, Siakam becoming very good very fast is not a bad thing. Teams should want young players to make vast improvements. It’s conducive to winning.
The fact that Siakam’s growing pains are happening right now seems to be a result of poor timing, given the way Kawhi Leonard’s impending free agency and the all-in transactions associated with it have steered every decision going back to the summer. Another summer in the lab armed with this experience plus more time with Kawhi would be the ultimate outcome for the Raptors, but there is no telling what Leonard will decide in July.
With time potentially running out, Siakam will need to find a way to salvage the end of his breakout season. Regardless of Kawhi’s uniform next fall, Siakam will remain a foundational piece of the organization. That next step needs to be taken one way or another.
In the regular season, and even the first round despite his poor regular-season performance against Orlando, Siakam was able to use his combination of length and quickness to either blow past defenders, put them in the blender or reach to the sky to drop improbable shots over or around outstretched hands. Unfortunately for him, the league’s best teams tend to have players that bring the same elite blend of quickness and size.
Catching that attention has been a frustrating development for Siakam, who has been relegated to serious inconsistency over the conference semis and finals.
In the regular season, Siakam averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.7 steals and 1.0 3-pointers per game (2.7 attempts) while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.
In the second round against the Sixers, those numbers dipped to 19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers on 4.3 attempts with 43.7 percent shooting.
Through two games against Milwaukee Siakam has slid even further, 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers on 5.5 attempts with a 37.2 mark from the field.
In the second round Siakam was able to get his points, but required heavy volume to do so. He topped 50 percent from the field only twice, and the Sixers quickly schemed to limit his effectiveness by daring him to shoot while switching Joel Embiid to Siakam duty. A 12-for-15 effort in Game 1 was followed up with a 9-for-25 performance in Game 2 with too much time spent on the perimeter. He seemed to brute-force his way to points, leaving too many empty possessions in his wake.
The third-year forward rightfully remains a hesitant shooter, as he’s at his best when taking the ball to the rim or backing down smaller defenders. Driving into immense length has proven to be a problem, and while there has been an increase in mid-range, open jumpers, those are not the shots that the Raptors want to be earning.
Against Philadelphia, the counter was to involve Siakam in screens and dribble hand-offs in order to drag Embiid out of his comfort zone and into space. That same tactic will not fly against the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Getting the Greek Freak out onto the ball is not an advantage in any sense and he’s disruptive enough to snuff out any action before it begins, launching Milwaukee’s lethal transition game.
Siakam’s going to have to find a way to make good use of his possessions, even if his scoring decreases. Whether that’s more minutes at center or changing his substitution pattern to escape Antetokounmpo, the Raptors must find a solution.
One quick way to do so would be knocking down the corner three. Siakam is 2-for-11 from range so far and 0-for-7 from the corners, where he shot 41.6 percent during the regular season. In his 2-for-9 (6-of-20 overall) Game 1, all of his deep misses came from the corners.
The Bucks concede threes to flaky shooters by design, and those looks will be there for him for the duration of the series. Siakam has proven that he can deliver on those opportunities and will need to start for the Raptors to get themselves back in the series.
For as much as improved shooting may help Siakam get into the series, there are other ways that he can increase his involvement while helping the Raptors in areas of need.
Milwaukee has controlled the glass and won the transition battles in both games so far. In Game 2 the Bucks outrebounded the Raptors 53-40 (11-6 offensively), leading to a 17-8 edge in second chance scoring, and also took fast-break points by a 28-19 margin.
Although Siakam fouled out in 26 minutes on Friday night, tallying only one rebound is unacceptable. Though he tied for the team lead with five box-outs and only had four credited rebound chances, Siakam simply must impact the rebounding effort more than he did in Game 2.
The fast-break scoring is also an issue, and Siakam has been far too impactful on the run to not help even things out in transition. It may be more yeoman’s work than we’ve seen from Siakam this season, but there are avenues to positive minutes that don’t involve him going on a scoring binge.
It’s part of adjusting to life as a true go-to option. Siakam is now a focal point of gameplans, and he’s being pushed to his limits against the best competition the league has to offer. It’s a valuable experience for him to learn that just happens to be coming at a moment where the Raptors have no margin for error.
1 – The Bucks have been built perfectly. Every single player on the roster complements its core, and Milwaukee was able to go out and acquire one of the best imaginable fits at the trade deadline as well. Nikola Mirotic responded from a quiet Game 1 to deliver 15 points on Friday.
2 – Their depth was on full display in Game 2, with Malcolm Brogdon, George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova combining for 44 points on 17-of-29 from the field and 6-of-14 from 3-point range. Reserve play like that is a luxury that no remaining team outside the Bucks can boast.
3 – Groups with Malcolm Brogdon and the starters vastly outperformed groups with Nikola Mirotic and the other four starters in Game 1, but both players were up to par in Game 2. Brogdon still produced a better all-around game with 14 points, four rebounds, five assists, a steal, three triples and a plus-15 mark. The Bucks still have that lineup move in their back pocket if they ever need to go there.
4 – Norman Powell brought the goods off the bench with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. It’s like the dollar-store version of the Raptors wasting Kyle Lowry’s Game 1 considering how fleeting bench production has been throughout the postseason.
5 – Serge Ibaka was also much improved over his Game 1 performance, though he did have a few moments where he looked a couple steps too slow in the second half. It’s been a wild ride all postseason long at the center spot between Ibaka’s Jekyll and Hyde routine and Marc Gasol sitting south of 40 percent from the field. Gasol’s 1-for-9 featured a few in-and-out shots but at some point the team will just need more, bad luck be damned. One of these players will need to grab the bull by the horns on Sunday or the Raptors will be forced into deploying some Siakam-at-center looks that haven’t been looked at all too closely this season.
6 – Kawhi Leonard has done a great job slowing Khris Middleton down (as expected), who has posted 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting through the first two games. The fact that Middleton has been quiet on offense through two wins only points to how high Milwaukee’s theoretical ceiling is, and underscores the overall depth that the Bucks have built.
7 – Eric Bledsoe had another poor game, going 3-of-10 from the field for eight points, five rebounds and seven assists. The Bucks have gotten limited production from three of their starters in each of the first two games and have put up a comeback win and a blowout. Not like the Raptors needed other things to be worried about. They’re going to continue helping off him and hope for the best.
8 – Jodie Meeks continues to serve in the ninth man role, but it’s not going to be much help adding a catch-and-shoot player to a group that’s prone to one-on-one play. On the flip side, maybe a designated gunner type will encourage others to take good shots that are available earlier in the clock, but the Raptors shouldn’t be needing to coerce their players into firing away. Nick Nurse seems completely unwilling to turn to Jeremy Lin – who had a rough time settling in after signing with the Raptors – but he did whip out some zone defense tonight, so who knows what happens as the pressure mounts.
9 – The third quarter featured some positives for the Raptors, though they’ll need to determine how much of that was their own play and how much of it was the Bucks naturally easing up. A two-guard lineup with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Powell at small forward gave Toronto a speed boost, and for as much as they don’t want to encourage the Bucks to play fast they may need to try and juice things up a little bit to prevent Milwaukee from locking into their half-court defense. The Raptors don’t have enough size to hang in most lineups so they’ll need to attack quickly or run the risk of leaning on iso-ball.
10 – A lineup change for the Raptors could be in play given Marc Gasol’s awful run through two games. It’s not a slam dunk – Ibaka’s up-and-down play makes a straight swap there potentially disastrous, and the Bucks don’t have a second true big for Gasol to match up with in their second unit. While their frontcourt has been a big letdown so far, there’s not much to be gained by moving Gasol away from the Lopez matchup or trying to keep him off the court against specific Bucks. They’re all going to force him to defend in space and no advantage gets uncovered. Toronto’s current starting five has graded out very well by most metrics, and their problems continue to resemble issues with execution rather than process or personnel. (Way too many passes from respectable shots into tough late-clock situations, though blaming poor shooting glosses over other issues.) That said, moments like this are the reason that the Raptors preached flexibility all season long. They’re supposedly nimble enough to make quick adjustments like this, though there’s no telling if it’ll do more harm than good in this specific example. Metrics on the starters with Ibaka in place of Gasol still look good, for what it’s worth.
June 19, 2019, 2:44 pmDavid Vanterpool - Team - Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves have hired David Vanterpool as an assistant coach.
Vanterpool was a popular name on the interview circuit this summer but ultimately did not land a head coaching job. An assistant with Portland for the last seven seasons, one would expect that Vanterpool's responsibilities will increase in Minnesota.
Source: Timberwolves PR on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 2:41 pmAl Horford - F/C - Boston Celtics
Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer is reporting that the Mavs, Lakers and Clippers have all shown interest in Al Horford, with some of O'Connor's sources indicating that the Mavs are the frontrunners.
Horford was expected to re-sign with the Celtics but the two didn't appear to be aligned in what they wanted moving forward, and rumors have Horford set to cash in on a four-year deal worth more than $100 million. He is an extremely malleable player who does almost everything at a high level, and his availability drastically changes the open market. Horford is a fit on just about any team build and should have no problem commanding a big offer come June 30. He'd be a fantastic pickup for any of the three teams mentioned, and his fit in Dallas next to two young, do-it-all stars would be great entertainment.
Source: The Ringer
June 19, 2019, 1:59 pmJa Morant - G - College
Ja Morant says he’s pain-free after undergoing a surgery to remove loose bodies from his right knee, and also expects to play in Summer League.
Morant is widely expected to be taken by the Grizzlies at No. 2 overall in Thursday’s draft, and Wednesday’s trade of Mike Conley completely clears the runway for Morant to play a ton right out of the gates. Delon Wright will also be around and is good enough to push Morant for minutes to an extent, but the Grizzlies figure to spend most of the season exploring a Morant – Jaren Jackson Jr. pairing and figuring out what works around that. Barring a draft night surprise, Morant looks like one of the safer rookies to project in terms of sheer opportunity. There was some worry that his knee procedure would put him behind the eight ball but it no longer seems like that will be the case.
Source: Ben Golliver on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 1:33 pmKyle Korver - G/F - Memphis Grizzlies
Kyle Korver, who will be traded to the Grizzlies when they complete Wednesday's Mike Conley deal, is expected to play one more season, and possibly another beyond that per Marc Stein.
Korver, 38, was said to be mulling retirement but it looks as though he's going to give it another crack. A notorious fitness nut, Korver keeps himself in great shape and relies on a skill that hasn't degraded at all with age. His place on a rebuilding team is questionable, however, and it would be surprising if he spent the entire season in Memphis. Consider him the same 3-point specialist he always is.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 1:29 pmJae Crowder - F - Memphis Grizzlies
Jae Crowder is headed to the Grizzlies as soon as Wednesday's Mike Conley trade is officially completed.
Crowder reasserted himself as a quality stretch four last season after he struggled in his pit stop with Cleveland. He might not hold much utility on a squad that's rebuilding, and Crowder's best shot at fantasy value might be getting re-routed to another team. Regardless, Crowder would only be a late-round guy in 9-cat leagues at best, and he'll likely settle in as a streamer for threes, rebounds and the occasional steal. If he does play out the year in Memphis, he figures to impact the minutes of Kyle Anderson and Avery Bradley.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 1:24 pmGrayson Allen - G - Memphis Grizzlies
Grayson Allen is part of Wednesday's Mike Conley trade and will be headed to the Grizzlies when the deal is completed.
Allen only appeared in 37 games for the Jazz, though he did end up dropping 40 points in the season finale when Utah rested most of its players. On a rebuilding team, Allen is a lock to play more, but whether he becomes more than a deep-league points and threes guy is up for debate.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 11:56 amMike Conley - G - Utah Jazz
The Grizzlies are trading franchise star Mike Conley Jr. to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, the 23rd pick in Thursday's Draft and a future protected first-round pick.
The Jazz were considered the frontrunner to trade for Conley in the last few days and they are able to execute a deal that upgrades their point guard position without selling the farm. It’s now obvious that the Grizzlies will be entering a rebuilding period and Ja Morant seems the obvious choice to replace Conley.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 11:39 amKevin Durant - F - Golden State Warriors
ESPN’s Jay Williams, a Kevin Durant friend and a partner with KD’s manager, Rich Kleiman, told the NY Post that it’s too early for the Warriors superstar to figure out what the injury means for his free-agent future.
Williams has spoken with Durant since the devastating injury as he is still trying to deal with the post-surgery period. KD has until June 29th, the day before free-agency courting period, to opt out of the final season of his pact. Even though he will miss next season, he is likely to get a max deal either with the Warriors or elsewhere. The Knicks are still interested, believing that if there’s any player who can come back from this debilitating injury, it is Durant, who will be 32 to start the 2020-21 campaign.
Source: NY Post
June 19, 2019, 11:33 amMichael Kidd-Gilchrist - F - Charlotte Hornets
Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has opted into his $13M player option for the 2019-20 season.
Ugh! This comes a week after Marvin Williams exercised his $15 million player option putting the Hornets in a tough financial situation with at least $98 million already on the books for next year. It’s highly unlikely that MKG would have commanded a salary anywhere close to $10 million per year in an open market so this was a no brainer for him. Kidd-Gilchrist is only 25 years old and is coming off a couple seasons where he struggled with injuries while the lack of a reliable jumper makes it hard for him to have value in today’s space and pace offense.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 11:16 amKhris Middleton - F - Milwaukee Bucks
Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton is declining his $13M player option and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Middleton is expected to command a five-year max contract but he and the Bucks are planning to work together toward a new long-term deal. Middleton recently bought a new property in Milwaukee and Giannis has openly vouched for his teammate so we’d be shocked if the two parties don’t end up agreeing on a new deal. There will be plenty of suitors that can only offer him a four-year max deal, with the Lakers rumored to be one of them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter