• 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.

    Other Observations

    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.

Fantasy News

  • Chris Silva
    C, Miami Heat

    Ira Winderman reported on Twitter Friday night that Chris Silva will receive one of the two available two-way contract from the Heat.

    An undrafted free agent and a former SEC co-defensive player of the year is off to a good start to his NBA career. With the Heat's track record of player development, keep him on your deep league watch lists.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Damyean Dotson
    SG, New York Knicks

    Damyean Dotson made his return to action on Friday from offseason shoulder surgery and logged 10 minutes, contributing three points, one assist, one 3-pointer and one steal.

    Dotson has a lot more competition for minutes in 2019-20 compared to his bright performance as a pick-up streamer in 2018-19. He's also under the thumb of the evil coach David Fizdale roster-shuffling chaos machine. so it's best to leave him undrafted in most leagues, applying a wait-and-see approach for now.

  • Alex Caruso
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Mike Trudell reported on Twitter that Alex Caruso suffered a bone contusionon his pelvis during Friday's game and will not return.

    According to Trudell, the X-rays were negative but Caruso will undergo further testing when the team returns to Los Angeles.

    Source: Mike Trudell on Twitter

  • LaMarcus Aldridge
    PF, San Antonio Spurs

    LaMarcus Aldridge recorded 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks across 28 minutes in Friday's 104-91 win over Memphis.

    Aldridge continues to chug along providing scoring and rebounding with good efficiency and the occasional big nights on defense like tonight. He isn't a sexy pick, but he should produce consistently if healthy.

  • DeMar DeRozan
    SG, San Antonio Spurs

    DeMar Derozan contributed across the box score in Friday's win over Memphis with 14 points (5-for-12 shooting), six rebounds, five assists and three 3-pointers.

    It was nice to see Derozan chip in three long balls as that was sorely missing from his game last year. He's got a top-75 floor, but if he can get his long-range shooting back on track he can provide some value at his current ADP.

  • Rudy Gay
    SF, San Antonio Spurs

    Rudy Gay scored 13 points (5-for-11 shooting) off the bench to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers in Friday's win over Memphis.

    Bryn Forbes started and scored 14 in this one with three 3-pointers, three assists and one steal. Gay is a high-floor/low-ceiling late pick and Forbes is a 3-point streamer.

  • Dejounte Murray
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Dejounte Murray scored one point on 0-for-3 shooting while adding seven rebounds, three assists and two steals over 20 minutes in Friday's win over Memphis.

    Derrick White also struggled in this one with two points (0-for-4 shooting), six rebounds, four assists one steal and one block in 19 minutes. The out-of-position rebounds and defense is nice from Murray and White, but the two will need to find a way to contribute consistently on offense if they're to reach their fantasy ceilings.

  • JA Morant
    PG, Memphis Grizzlies

    Ja Morant scored 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting adding six assists, five rebounds, two blocks and a 3-pointer across 25 minutes in Friday's 91-104 loss to the Spurs.

    The two blocks were impressive for the 6-foot-3 guard, who is locked in as a top-3 asset in dynasty leagues this season and has a good chance to contribute as a mid-round pick in standard leagues.

  • Jaren Jackson Jr.
    PF, Memphis Grizzlies

    Jaren Jackson put up 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks one steal and one 3-pointer on Friday as the Grizzlies fell to the Spurs.

    Jackson also had four fouls on Friday, as the foul trouble that plagued his rookie season continues to follow him through the preseason. The nightly double-double and 3-and-D potential keep him worthy of a pick around round four or five.

  • Brandon Ingram
    SF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Brandon Ingram started at power forward for the injured Zion Williamson and scored 16 points, along with six rebounds, three assists and two treys in Friday's 117-116 win vs. the Knicks.

    Ingram slid to the power forward spot with J.J. Redick starting. He once again did not produce any defensive stats which is the downfall in his fantasy game along with efficiency. He will still provide value in scoring and rebounding in a fast-paced Pelicans offense.