Siakam and VanVleet are the perfect pair to usher in Raptors' new era

·3 min read

Following an impressive win against the Milwaukee Bucks down two starters in Gary Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes on Saturday night, Pascal Siakam shared his thoughts on his markedly improved passing during a stretch where he's welcomed the burden of lead ball-handling duties.

“I just think that getting used to having multiple people guarding you, it's an adjustment.” Siakam said. “I’m getting better at it, just reading the defense and making those passes. I’ve been a willing passer, it’s a part of my growth. Just understanding the attention that you bring and making your teammates better.”

In a game without much floor spacing, a resource already running thin for the Raptors at full strength, the team decided to utilize Fred VanVleet as a way to bring gravity away from the ball — but such a game plan would not have been a success without Siakam’s development as a passer within the offense. This development throughout the season has coincided with VanVleet’s All-Star case, and the result has been a worthy lead pair for the Raptors’ next chapter.

The best duo’s in the NBA are the ones that don’t rely too heavily on one another to thrive. Each can carry the offense and/or guide the defense fine in their own right, unreliant on one player to spoon feed the other points on the roll or off screens in order to be at their best. Interestingly, the ideal duo is defined by their individual independence, and the Raptors, judging by the evidence of the season thus far, have that in Siakam and VanVleet. Both talents excel as help defenders, erasing mistakes and filling gaps no matter the surrounding roster on the court, and both wield their gravity as a way to create space for teammates and break down opposing defenses. As it stands, the Raptors lack interior size, shooting, and guard depth — but it’s the two lead scorers that make it all work regardless.

Beyond their ability to create and produce for themselves, both stars maximize one another through their all too familiar two-man game. A game that’s been cultivated and practiced since their days on the bench between brief stints in the G-League. According to NBA.com, 36% of Pascal Siakam’s passes head to Fred VanVleet, an average of 16.1 per game, with VanVleet shooting 46.5% from 3 on such looks. On the other side, out of VanVleet’s 12.4 passes per game to Siakam (nearly the exact amount of passes to Scottie Barnes), the power forward is shooting 48.6% on twos.

Pascal Siakam's recent emergence as a premier playmaker combined with Fred VanVleet's shooting ability has given the Raptors a truly dynamic 1-2 punch. (Getty)
Pascal Siakam's recent emergence as a premier playmaker combined with Fred VanVleet's shooting ability has given the Raptors a truly dynamic 1-2 punch. (Getty)

VanVleet spoke on the domino effect of Siakam’s playmaking leap, “It’s helping my scoring right now, to be honest, to be able to play off the ball,” he said following the win in Milwaukee. “With the way that I’ve been shooting the ball and scoring, I think we’re helping each other, and him being a playmaker and handling the basketball, I think it’s helping my offense.”

Aside from their connection on the court, their concurrent All-Star campaigns draw comparisons to a couple of former Raptors. The growth of today’s Toronto duo, in comparison to the last tandem in Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan will be an interesting subplot worth tracking this year. Throughout the years of 2014-2018, Lowry and DeRozan buoyed a team that climbed from the playoff fringes to the top of the conference — among its contenders — in just a matter of a couple years. It’s because of that backcourt’s chemistry, that the Raptors were able to develop talents like Siakam and VanVleet while still winning games in the process. With the team’s current stars, they’ve recaptured that lightning in a bottle. Let’s see how far it takes them.

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