Despite losing two of their key players — Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — in the offseason, the reigning champion Toronto Raptors still look like a well-oiled machine, going 4-2 through the first two weeks of the NBA regular season. That being said, there are a few parts that could use some grease, like their leading man Pascal Siakam.
The $130 million man has built on his Most Improved Player campaign this season, averaging career-highs in points per game (26), 3-point percentage (42.4%), rebounds per game (8.5) and assists per game (3.3). However, on defense he’s taken a bit of a step back while taking on the lead offensive role — which isn’t a major surprise as that often happens when players have to spend more energy on offense. Most notably, he’s fouling more than he ever has, averaging 4.5 personal fouls per game, the most personal fouls per game by anyone that has averaged at least 30 minutes per game this season in the NBA.
Unsurprisingly, Siakam’s head coach Nick Nurse isn’t a fan of this recent trend and after practice on Tuesday, he told reporters that he and Siakam are working on fixing the problem (via Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun):
“I mean, he hasn’t been really smart, if you want me to be honest with you,” Nurse said after practice. “Most of those have been fouls. And they’re touch fouls that they’re not calling on everybody and they’re not calling every trip up and down, but if you go back and (rewatch them) you say, ‘Hey, he’s got two hands on him.’ So he’s got to take the two hands off of him and that’s what we’re working on.
“We’re poring over the film. We’re showing him just a little bit and that’s OK. That’s something he can change quickly and I’m expecting him to change it (on Wednesday night when the Raptors host the Sacramento Kings).”
The number of fouls he’s picking up is obviously a big issue, but the reason it’s been so detrimental to the team is because of when he picks them up. This season, Siakam has averaged 2.8 personal fouls per game in the second quarter, including 1.7 personal fouls per game in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to close out games when one of your best players has to play conservatively on both ends of the floor — or may need to sit for extended periods early on.
It’s also refreshing to hear Nurse not blame the officials for the calls, noting that while they aren’t always egregious fouls, for the most part he is getting called for real fouls. Now that they’ve identified the problem of him putting his hands on players too often, it’s all about making the adjustment to allow him to be an impactful defender without as much hand-usage.
For both Siakam and the Raptors’ sake, let’s hope the 25-year-old forward figures it out.