Pascal Siakam is nearly unstoppable as a one-on-one scorer. Seems like a bizarre thing to say about a role player who’s been lauded for his defensive upside and transition prowess more than anything else, but it’s true.

Siakam can pull bigs out and make them defend in space. He makes them do things bigs aren’t meant to do, forcing them to slide their feet and navigate screens. Once he has them off-balance he explodes to the rim too quickly for them to react.

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If the big instead sits back under the basket, Siakam can create separation by using his patented spin move. And while Siakam may use the same move a lot, his ability to spin either way and finish with either hand prevents opponents from sitting on it. He’s right-handed, but he doesn’t need to drive left and spin back right, he can drive can just as easily drive right and spin left, as JaMychal Green will be quick to tell you.

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If teams instead defend him with a wing or a small then he’ll take them to the block and bully them, scoring with a variety of hook shots and push shots even if they stop him from backing in all the way to the basket.

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There are just very few defenders in the league who possess the combination of speed and strength needed to check Siakam one-on-one. Siakam doesn’t possess a particularly diverse skillset, his game is extremely focused on a few select methods of scoring. Siakam generally has just a single edge over his defender in an individual matchup, only one way he can generate enough of an advantage to score. Ultimately though, that’s really all he needs. He’ll beat you the same way, time and time again. A big who can’t contain him in space once won’t be able to the second time either. Same thing for a guard who can’t stop him on the block.

Of course, basketball generally doesn’t work like this. It’s not a one-on-one competition, it’s a team sport. Even if you can’t defend a player individually, you generally find ways that you can work as a team to limit them. Siakam would be uniquely susceptible to a team focusing in on him. He might have a variety of ways to get there, but ultimately, his entire game revolves around getting to the basket. He’s not an effective scorer outside of ten feet, so if a team were to pack the paint against him he would be rendered ineffective. For an example of what could happen to Siakam if a team focused on shutting him down we can look to a game from last year’s playoffs, when the Boston Celtics famously held Sixers’ point guard Ben Simmons, a similarly one-dimensional scorer, to just a single point.

The good news for Siakam is that, unlike Simmons, teams can’t afford to pack the paint against him. Simmons was one of the main focal points of his team’s offence, so shutting him down at the cost of opening up scoring opportunities for the Sixers’ perimeter players proved a viable strategy. Siakam on the other hand, despite being an exceptionally talented individual scorer, is relatively low in the Raptors’ offensive hierarchy. A team that chooses to pack the paint against someone like Simmons is limiting a team’s 1st option at the cost of empowering their 4th and 5th options. This strategy succeeds in large part because it forces teams out of their comfort zones. It makes them adjust by demanding they run their offense through players who are unaccustomed to high usage. Packing the paint against the Raptors does no such thing. There’s no adjustment needed, it simply makes things easier for Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, the perimeter scorers who were already going to shoulder the brunt of the Raptors’ offensive load.

Given such a beneficial environment to work in, Siakam has achieved tremendous results to this point in the year. He’s the league’s leader in 2-point field goal percentage, shooting nearly 70% inside the arc. He’s also among the league’s best as a scorer in a range of of one-on-one playtypes. He ranks in the 90th percentile or better as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, in isolation and in the post.

So, while basketball is a team sport, Siakam can reduce it to a one-on-one game when he’s given the chance to attack his matchup. And, with his exceptional combination of speed, aggressiveness, touch and strength, the one-on-one game is something he’ll win far more often than not.

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