Pascal Siakam is still a baby when it comes to being The Guy in the NBA or, frankly, basketball in general.
We won't rehash his entire life's story, but keep in mind that the Toronto Raptors' star forward has only been playing basketball for just over a decade now. Unlike the overwhelming majority of his North American counterparts who grow up playing AAU and high school hoops year-round and are almost always the best player on their teams, Siakam's journey has been different. Even at 27 years old, he's still in his infancy when it comes to being the guy with the ball at the end of the game.
It's understandable then that Siakam's season has been a little inconsistent in the clutch this year. For one, clutch stats are always inconsistent. They're inherently just a tiny sample size of a much larger picture so it's unfair to really judge a player based on one season of so-called "clutch stats." It would be easy to look back on his missed game-winners and game-tying shots this season or the gaffes he's made late in games and just dismiss him as a choker. But picking out just those shots misses exactly who he is and what he's been doing in those situations.
Siakam has taken 127 "clutch" shots over the entirety of his five-year NBA career, according to NBA Stats. Through Thursday night, he's made 64 of those 127 shots at a 50.4% clip. Here's a look at how he's arrived at those numbers:
|Year||Shots Made||Shots Attempted||Percentage|
For comparison, that's 10% better than Kawhi Leonard's first five seasons on approximately the same number of shot attempts. Leonard, whose early career isn't too dissimilar from Siakam's, made 49 of 121 "clutch" shots to start his career.
Taking and making those shots is usually something that takes some time for players. When LeBron James joined the league in 2003 he was immediately thrust into that go-to guy spot for the Cavaliers and was forced to take 549 "clutch" shots in his first five seasons, nailing them at a 45% clip. That was back when people thought James was a chocker, long before he became The King and learned how to deal with those clutch situations. For Siakam, it's still a learning process, but fortunately for the Raptors he understands that and he wants to get better.
"It’s just, for me, being put in these situations where you have the ball, and you have to make the right decision at the end of the game. I think, obviously, I feel like it’s just something new and just learning from those experiences," Siakam said Thursday night. "I felt like a lot of players go through their career and don’t get to be in these situations and I’ve been blessed to be in those situations and no matter the outcome, just learning from it. I think that’s something that I feel I can only get better from, it’s all those moments and you learn from it and you hope to make the right decision the next time."
And frankly, it hasn't even been that bad. Just looking at his game-winning shots misses the full picture of what Siakam has been able to do down the stretches in some of these games. On Thursday in a crucial game against the Washington Wizards, he had 18 points and three assists split between overtime and the fourth quarter and he repeatedly made the right decisions for Toronto.
The Raptors have already made it clear how they feel about this season. They're more focused on developing their younger players than making the playoffs and at this point that's OK. Could they give Kyle Lowry some more of these late-game shots and potentially win one or two more games? Potentially. But what purpose would that serve? Lowry is 35 years old and might not be around next season, let alone the next time Toronto reaches an NBA Finals. Siakam, however, might be. Giving him these reps now is allowing him to get used to being in these spots and should have him better equipped down the road when Toronto really needs these wins again.