Sometimes in basketball the difference between being too passive and being a great facilitator is just results.
If a star player makes the right pass 10 times and his teammates miss the ensuing shot eight times, things probably didn't go very well. On the other hand, if those same teammates go 8-for-10 from the floor, all of the sudden that star player is probably pretty close to a double-double without anything he's done changing at all.
Looking at the box score of the Toronto Raptors' second preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday and you probably think Pascal Siakam was too passive. He took just seven shots in 23 minutes and came away with just three assists. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll see how the Raptors totally changed their gameplan from the preseason opener and turned Siakam into a facilitator, one who was bitten by some tough luck from his teammates.
In Toronto's first preseason game the Raptors ran a bunch of isolation plays for Siakam, cleaning things out and letting him go one-on-one against his defender. It wasn't particularly successful.
"He had some up and down moments last night," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said following the game.
On Monday, the Raptors changed their gameplan, Nurse said, allowing Siakam to create a little more.
"They were sending so many bodies at him when he tried to drive," Nurse said. "I give him credit for passing out of those so willingly and doing it well."
Unfortunately for Siakam — who finished the game with efficient 5-for-7 shooting and 12 points — his teammates couldn't help him out. Here's a look:
Play 1: Aron Baynes sets a screen for Siakam, forcing the Hornets to switch and creating a mismatch in the paint for the 6-foot-10 Baynes. Siakam hits Baynes in the low post, but P.J. Washington pokes the ball loose.
Play 2: Siakam lures the Hornets into double-teaming him, freeing up Chris Boucher for an open 3-point look.
Play 3: Siakam once again lures the Hornets into double-teaming him, then flips a pass to a cutting Boucher who gets called for a charge.
Play 4: Siakam drives into the paint off the Baynes' pick-and-roll and waits for DeAndre' Bembry's man to collapse inward, freeing up Bembry for a good 3-point look.
Play 5: Running in transition, Siakam forces the Hornets to cut off his driving lane, freeing up Paul Watson Jr. for an open 3-point look.
Play 6: Siakam and Boucher's pick-and-roll frees up Norman Powell in the corner for a 3-point shot.
At least six times on Monday, Siakam was able to draw the defence in, creating opportunities for his teammates to get off good looks. While that kind of playmaking is not entirely new for Siakam — who averaged 3.5 assists per game last season — the Raptors are still trying to get accustomed to where they should be when Siakam is attacking.
"He's going to be getting every team's full attention, probably for the rest of his career so we work on it every day just trying to find the right spots for guys to be in," Fred VanVleet said of Siakam's playmaking.
This year the Raptors are hoping to get a little bit more out of Siakam's playmaking abilities. It's something new assistant coach Chris Finch mentioned as a way to open up the team's half-court offence by using Siakam's driving ability to create better looks for his teammates. And in today's NBA, where defences are often forced to choose between selling out to stop a star or try to stop everyone else, having the playmaking tool in Siakam's toolkit is going to be essential for Toronto.
"We’ve been practising it a lot with him," Nurse said. "It’s not just him, it’s the other guys’ spacing, it’s the other guys’ cutting and getting to areas where we can hurt them because we should. We always say, if you put two or three on the ball you’ve done your job as a scorer."
Siakam is probably never going to be an elite one-on-one isolation scorer who can get a bucket when he needs to. But if he can develop as a playmaker this season, using the attention opposing teams pay to him to create good looks for his teammates, then he can become an even more lethal offensive player.