Could Pascal Siakam Win Most Improved Player Back to Back Years?

Let’s rewind the tape to May 2016. It’s days after the NBA draft combine and 22-year-old sophomore out of New Mexico State, Pascal Siakam is unsure about keeping his name in the upcoming NBA Draft. It was for good reason as he combined for just 10 points and 8 boards in the two games played at the combine. Siakam was far from a standout and was labeled as a raw talent who could be good on defense because of his long frame, but very limited offensively. That scouting report held true through the first two seasons of Siakam’s career as he struggled to score, preventing him from getting constant playing time under Dwayne Casey.

However the tides turned up at the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season when under new head coach Nick Nurse, Siakam took a massive leap in every statistical category and eventually winning the Most Improved Player Award. He became a true offensive threat for opposing defenses, as his points per game sky rocketed from 7.3 to 16.9. Siakam took his game to another level during the NBA championship run, becoming the clear cut Robin to Kawhi’s Batman, quickly becoming a house hold name. And for the sake of the Toronto Raptors organization post Kawhi Leonard, it’s a good thing Siakam showed he was able to take that unexpected next step.

Heading into this season, with Kawhi gone, the opportunity for Siakam to grab control of the face if Toronto basketball was there for the taking. And all reviews thus far point to Siakam doing just that. In the early going, Siakam has drastically improved upon his previous season where he was named the most improved player. But can we really name the incumbent MIP as the favorite to win the award again? From a look at the year to year jump in stats across the board for Siakam leads me to believe the answer to that question could be yes.

2020 Pascal Siakam: Improving on Most Improved
  2018-19 2019-20
Points/gm increase +9.6 +10.3
Ast/gm increase +1.1 +0.7
Reb/gm increase +2.4 +2.3
3-point/gm increase +0.6 +1.3
AST% increase +1.1 +4.6
USG% increase +5.1 +10.7
PER increase +4.2 +3.1

Though it’s early, this years jump is more impressive than the jump he made in his MIP season. Siakam currently averaging 27.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 49.1% FG%, with a 21.8 PER (league average is 15), is not only throwing his hat back into the MIP race, but possibly into the MVP race as the Toronto Raptors are off to an 8-3 start despite injuries.

The improvement in Siakam’s game goes beyond the stat sheet, and can be seen with the old reliable eye test. If you pull up tape from 2017-18 Siakam on offense and 2019-2020 tape, it will look like two different players.

If you notice the offensive plays here, they all involve lob finishes, or direct lanes to the rim for easy dunks. It almost has an athletic big, a lob city DeAndre Jordan feel to his offensive game. But not an offensive play style you can build.

Now take a look at this performance the other night against Portland where Siakam exploded for 36 points, showcasing all of his newly developed offensive abilities.

Notice the variety of shots he made in this game. Pull up 3’s off the dribble, post hooks, both left and right handed finishes, still catching lobs, and one special clutch shot near the end. Siakam used a spin move to get into the post only to break out the signature Dirk Nowitzki one legged fadeaway over 6’7″ Rodney Hood to essentially ice the Raptors victory.

That is a long ways away from the initial scouting report of Siakam being a “lengthy project” who drew comparisons to fellow Cameroonian Luc Mbah a Moute.

So will Siakam win MIP in back to back years?  Highly unlikely with there being a boat load of contenders like Brandon Ingram, Aaron Baynes, and Andrew Wiggins, to name a few. But despite it being unprecedented, I do give Siakam a legit chance considering he appears to be the most consistent of the group in contention. We will revisit this come April.


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