Strange: The one word that could accurately describe the past year and a half of NBA basketball. Though every team had to endure the league-wide shutdown a season ago, no other team had to relocate entirely for the 2020-21 campaign like the Toronto Raptors, who now call Tampa Bay home. Sunny Florida welcomed the team from up north with a cold shoulder, tallying eight losses in its first 10 games and a less-than-ideal start by stud forward Pascal Siakam.
For every All-Star-level performance, which Spicy P was last season, there was one that left fantasy managers making sure they were wearing the right reading glasses. The ebbs and flows have left fantasy players across formats wondering if they can trust the 2020-21 version of Siakam.
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Breaking Down Pascal Siakam
Trending in the right direction
There was a legitimate case that the answer to this question was no a week ago. On February 4, Siakam was ranked 75th on Fantrax. As Bradford Nickerson kindly pointed out in his Trade Target table, Siakam was providing a -44 Return On Investment after averaging a 31st overall selection in fantasy drafts. He even listed Siakam as an option in trades for Gordon Hayward and Jerami Grant.
But boy, what a difference seven days can make. Thanks in part to 30+ points in four of his last seven outings, Siakam is up to 32nd in standard head-to-head scoring. That still doesn’t quite reach Grant and Hayward at 21 and 25 respectfully, but it does place the 2018-19 Most Improved Player in between Ben Simmons (31) and LaMelo Ball (33), and ahead of Donovan Mitchell (34) Paul George (40).
So what made the All-NBA second-team selection so unpredictable early on in the year? (Hint: it has nothing to do with his ability to rebound or share the ball)
A slow start, but finally healthy
As it turns out, a clear mindset and a healthy body go a long way in the NBA.
The NBA Bubble was quite polarizing for players. Some, like Tyler Herro, played their best ball of the season. For those like Siakam, it was a forgettable experience. In his last five regular-season games, Siakam averaged 16.2 points on 39.7%, eclipsing 20 points just once, with a 29.4% mark from 3-point range. His playoff numbers were nearly identical: 17 points on 39.7% shooting — breaking the 20-point threshold just once in the Eastern Conference Semifinals — while shooting an abysmal 18.9% from deep.
What about his first 15 games of this year? If you guessed “More of the same,” you’d be correct: 18.1 points, though on a better 44% shooting mark, while making just 25.4% of his attempts from downtown. At one point, he went three games without making a 3-pointer (0-12).
All of this, of course, came while he was dealing with nagging lower-body injuries. In particular, a pulled groin sidelined him for a pair of games.
Since returning back to full strength and simplifying the game (a.k.a reducing his 3-point attempts), Spicy P is playing at the level his four-year contract extension would suggest. Prior to Wednesday night’s bout with Washington, Siakam’s 30+ points in four of his last six games came on 59% shooting, and outside of going 5-for-8 from deep against Memphis, he never attempted more than three 3-pointers in a game. Averaging two steals and nearly a block per contest over the same stretch only boosted his value across all formats.
If Wednesday night’s win over the Wizards was any indication, the refined version of Siakam is here for the long haul. He stuffed the stat sheet with 26 points, making 9-of-18 from the floor to accompany five boards, a pair of assists, one block, one steal, and just one turnover. His +27 mark matched a season-high and he was even able to get 3-of-4 attempts from long range to fall. He posted 23 points on Friday night as well giving him 27 PPG over his last three games.
As long as Siakam stays healthy and keeps this adjusted approach to his game — opting for high percentage shots and trips to the line instead of the long ball — then yes, you can absolutely trust Siakam in any fantasy format. He’s averaging career bests in rebounds (7.8), assists (4.6), and free-throw percentage (79.6%). His points per game average is down slightly from last season, but he’s attempting the most shots inside the arc in his career, which should increase his efficiency and confidence moving forward.
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