When the Toronto Raptors lost superstar Kawhi Leonard after winning the NBA championship last year, most predicted a dismal follow-up season. Yet the Raptors have silenced critics by finishing with a 53-19 record, good for second place in the Eastern Conference. One of the secrets to the Raptors’ success this year has been the stellar play of forward Pascal Siakam.
Siakam has upped his game so much that he stands a good chance of winning a second-straight NBA Most Improved Player award. If he did, he’d be the first player to win the award twice. Let’s look at Siakam’s accomplishments in recent years.
Pascal Siakam’s 2018-19 breakout NBA season
The Raptors selected Siakam with the 17th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. During his first two seasons in the league, he played more or less as you would expect from a late first-round pick, averaging just 7.3 points per game in his second year. Most pundits predicted his ceiling being that of a solid bench player—dependable but not even closer to star level.
Yet in his third season, Siakam shocked the NBA by improving his scoring by nearly 10 points per game, averaging 16.9 points per game. Siakam wasn’t just scoring more, however — he was also scoring more efficiently. His field goal percentage rose from 50.8% to 54.9%, despite taking nearly twice as many shots per game.
Siakam’s three-point shooting also improved drastically, from a dismal 22.0 percent to an above-average 36.9 percent. Virtually all of his other numbers improved as well. He bumped his rebounds from 4.5 to 6.9 per game, and his assists from 2.0 to 3.1 per game. Meanwhile, Siakam proved himself a versatile and tenacious defender, capable of hounding the most talented wings in the league.
Advanced stats verified how important Siakam was to the Raptors’ success. While he was on the floor, the Raptors outscored their foes by 11 points per 100 possessions; when he sat, the Raptors were outscored by 2.9 points. His accomplishments on the court made Siakam an easy pick for NBA Most Improved Player. He beat out fellow finalists D’Angelo Russell and De’Aaron Fox.
Siakam’s chance to repeat
Although the Raptors had always been optimistic about his upside, Siakam’s leap during the 2018-19 season surprised most of the league. Yet his performance this year arguably was even greater. Siakam continued to improve his numbers in most aspects of the game.
To begin with, his abilities as a scorer have become even more lethal. Siakam has averaged 22.9 points per game — six more than he put up last year. His rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks have all also risen. He’s also proven that last year’s long-distance shooting wasn’t a fluke, averaging a slightly lower 35.9 percent on more than twice as many 3-point attempts per game.
Not only has Siakam improved his individual numbers, but he has also shown himself capable of being the best player on a championship-caliber team. He successfully lead the Raptors to a number two seed—the exact same mark they achieved last year.
Will Siakam make NBA history?
Now that we’ve laid out a strong case for Siakam’s repeat, we must acknowledge just how impressive this feat would be. In NBA history, no player has ever won two Most Improved Player awards — let alone in back-to-back seasons.
In other words, if Siakam can pull off this feat, he’ll make NBA history. Either way, the Raptors under his leadership should remain a potent force in the NBA for many years to come.