The NBA playoffs usually produce a few young stars, with the spotlight that comes from the increased pressure really pushing some players to ascend to new levels of play. Last year, Pascal Siakam became a shocking number two option on an NBA championship team. This year, it's going to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder who...
Far Fetched Friday: Kawhi Leonard is Expendable for the Toronto Raptors
By: Ryan Stein
Welcome to Far Fetched Friday where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we think will come to fruition. This Friday the prediction is that Kawhi Leonard will become expendable for the Raptors due to the rise of Pascal Siakam.
To any diligent follower of the NBA, Kawhi Leonard is a legitimate top-10 player in the league (top-5, depending on who you ask.) As such, any team would be ecstatic to have him wear their jersey on a nightly basis, besides probably the San Antonio Spurs. With Leonard being a free agent following this season, there is a threat that he could leave the Raptors in favor of another team, most notably the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. Leonard's departure would surely be a significant loss to the Raptors, since it is difficult to replace someone of his caliber. Fortunately for "The 6", their replacement for Leonard is already on the roster: Pascal Siakam.
At this point in their careers, nobody would confuse Siakam with being on the same level as Leonard. However, the gap is closer than most people outside of Toronto would believe. Per 36 minutes, here's the comparison of the two players' stats this season:
Kawhi Leonard: 28.2 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 3.5 APG; 49.4% FG; 36.9% 3PT; 86.2% FT
Pascal Siakam: 19.1 PPG; 7.7 RPG; 3.5 APG; 54.6% FG; 35.8% 3PT; 78.2% FT
There are a few points to look at with these statistics: For one, while the scoring difference is significant, it is important to note that Leonard has a much higher usage rate than Siakam (30.3% vs. 20.8%). If Siakam were to have a usage rate north of 30%, it is completely reasonable to expect that his per-36 scoring average would sit at least in the 22-23 PPG range. While still a step below Leonard's scoring prowess, Siakam's superior shooting percentage helps mitigate his relative lack of scoring.
It is also interesting to see that ancillary stats like assists and rebounds are dead even for the two forwards. Siakam's status as a "big man" instead of a wing player like Leonard makes his passing ability even more impressive, and having such a playmaker among your big men helps significantly with floor spacing and adding unpredictability for the opposing defense to worry about. Siakam also has made strides with his floor spacing capabilities in all three of his professional season to this point. With the increasing necessity for big men to provide floor spacing with three-point shooting, it is certain that Siakam will continue to improve his form and become a knockdown shooter from the perimeter.
Siakam's versatility cannot be overstated, especially with the game transitioning into "position-less" basketball. His ability to switch on defense between the opposing team's center and wing players, as well as being able to defend guards for small periods of time, is vital to the Raptors and whatever future success they may achieve. While Leonard is obviously a defensive stud in his own right, as made evident by his two Defensive Player of the Year awards, he doesn't have the size to consistently check the opponent's big men. Siakam will have a much better time defending the titans of the NBA, such as Joel Embiid, DeMarcus Cousins, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
I want to make one thing clear: Kawhi Leonard leaving the Raptors would be damaging to the team, and they will certainly do whatever they can to keep him on board. However, with the anticipated leap from Siakam (who is only 25 years old) into stardom, the blow that would come from Leonard's departure has become a lot easier for Canada's team to bear.
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