The Toronto Raptors were quite the surprise this season. Usually, when a player of Kawhi Leonard's caliber departs for warmer pastures, the spurned team takes a free-fall through the standings. Nothing like that happened in Toronto. Riding an elite defense, Kyle Lowry's grifting, and Pascal Siakam's first All-Star selection, the Raptors earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference before the season's postponement and held onto their title as one of the league's toughest teams to beat in the bubble.
But it always felt like their ceiling was as low as their floor was high. Winning an NBA title takes a superstar, and the Raptors don't have that anymore. They didn't miss a beat once the season restarted in the bubble in Orlando and handled their business with little trouble (with the exception of a brutal beat-down at the hands of the Celtics). They dominated the Brooklyn Nets in the first game of their playoff series, but ran into some trouble in the second, squeaking past with a three-point victory in Game 2.
What's become clear over the last few weeks is that if the Raptors want a legitimate shot at defending their title, they need Siakam to be a star. So far, he hasn't quite been that. He only broke the 20-point mark twice in eight games in the bubble. In the Raptors' win on Wednesday afternoon, Siakam posted his best shooting percentage of the previous five games, shooting 6-of-14 for a whopping 42 percent from the floor. He hadn't cracked the 40-percent mark from the field since August 5, Toronto's third seeding game.
Of course, it's not all bad. Siakam has been his usual terrifying self defensively. Nick Nurse complained about the criticism in a presser today, saying everyone keeps talking about "Pascal, Pascal, Pascal, Pascal" but Toronto's young star has, in fact, been good. And that's true! He has not been a bad player in the bubble. But the Raps need far more from him to go the distance.
The reason why is simple: he's the only player on the roster who can create his own shot, no matter who the defender his. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are very talented at shot creation in their own right, but they can only do so much to overcome a size mismatch. Siakam, standing at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, does not have that problem. He can use his extendo-arms to get over anybody in his way and isn't bothered by contact around the rim.
Siakam's still developing. He only really came into his own last year. He has a lot to learn in terms of passing when he gets into the paint and the jumper is ever-improving. But the Raptors need him to be their go-to scorer when the clock is ticking down and somebody needs to get a shot up. Lowry can't do it every time. The Raptors' title defense hopes start with their defense, but end with Siakam's offense.