It’s time to put Siakam in the MVP conversation

Pascal Siakam
Game 2 of 2019 NBA Finals” by Chensiyuan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Earlier this week, the NBA put out their KIA MVP Ladder, ranking players based on their production so far this season. Below are the top five MVP candidates so far.

Current NBA MVP rankings

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

4. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

With all of these guys having some of the best teams in the league and them all being some of the most popular names in basketball, it’s no surprise these guys are atop the list.

 

The next five

6. James Harden, Houston Rockets

7. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

10. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

As the list moves into the next five, it’s no surprise the guys listed above are there either. They’re just as popular as the guys above, it’s just their teams haven’t had as much early success.

 

And five more

11. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

12. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

13. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

14. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

15. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

Then there’s these guys, who are having successful seasons early on and are still popular names, but aren’t as popular as the top tier guys.

 

The guy who should be in the conversation

With most of this list I agree, but there’s one huge disagreement. That’s the absence of the name Pascal Siakam. I get Siakam isn’t a super popular name. Last year was the first year most people knew who he was! Instead of being a star player, he won Most Improved Player. While that is an accomplishment, winning Most Improved doesn’t make you a star.

I understand that Siakam has yet to play an entire season as the main guy for his team, but based on what he’s done so far this season, he absolutely should be in the MVP conversation.

Through the Raptors’ first eight games, Siakam has led them to a 6-2 record, which currently puts them second in the Eastern Conference. In those eight games, Siakam has averaged 27.9 points (7th in the NBA), 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He’s doing all that while shooting 51.9% from the field and 41.3% from three-point range.

First of all, why is the NBA’s seventh leading scorer not in the top 15 in the MVP race? Guys like AD, LeBron, KAT and Booker are all on the list, and they’re all currently averaging less points than Siakam!

Second, how in the world is Kendrick Nunn, an undrafted rookie, ahead of Siakam? Nunn is averaging 16.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and ranks 12th on the list, yet Siakam is left off? Makes perfect sense!

 

Where should Siakam rank?

If you ask me, Siakam should at the very least be ranked in the top 10. Let’s take a look at the guys in the top 10 and briefly compare them to Siakam.

Jokic currently has his team at the same record as the Raptors and in the same playoff spot, only in the Western Conference. However, he averages 16.3 points, which is 11.6 less than Siakam. Jokic averages 0.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists more than Siakam, but there’s no way that’s enough to overtake him.

Booker has his team off to a worse start (5-3), and is also averaging less points and significantly less rebounds. Lillard currently has the Blazers at 3-6 and not in a playoff spot, so I’m not sure why he’s even on the MVP list. He may be the league’s second leading scorer, but MVP’s don’t play for losing teams. Irving is kind of in the same boat as Lillard. He’s the league’s third leading scorer, but his team is just 4-4 and seems to be struggling to finish games. If anyone ranked six through 10 has a legit case, it’s Harden, who has his team at 6-3 and is the league’s leading scorer right now.

Now let’s move to the guys ranked in the top five. Embiid currently averages less points and assists, while shooting worse percentages from the field than Siakam. I’d easily take Siakam over Embiid for MVP right now.

This is where it starts to get interesting. AD and James are both averaging less points than Siakam, but they do have the best record in the Western Conference right now. You could make the argument here that Siakam has less help, because he’s not playing with a top five NBA player, while these two guys are.

That leaves us with Kawhi and the Greek Freak. Both guys are averaging more points than Siakam. With both of their teams sitting right where the Raptors are, I think I’d have to put these guys above Siakam at this moment.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint a specific place for Siakam to rank right now, but I’d say he’s at least in the top five. At the very, very least, he should be in the top 15! Again, how on earth is Kendrick Nunn ranked over him, or even in the top 15 at all?

Pascal Siakam may be last year’s Most Improved Player, but he’s this year’s star for the Toronto Raptors. Siakam is a star, yet most people don’t see it. It’s time to start recognizing Siakam as more than the guy who helped Kawhi a year ago. It’s time to recognize him as a legit MVP candidate. Let’s give him the recognition he deserves.

 

Way too early bold Eastern Conference predictions

Pascal.jpg
Pascal Siakam going for a jump ball at Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals” by Chensiyuan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Half the teams in the NBA have yet to play their fourth game of the season, but there are already budding tendencies we see continuing throughout the season. Using these tendencies, we’re making way too early bold predictions for the Eastern Conference!

Is it too early to be making these predictions? Probably. With such a small sample size, it’s hard to know how accurate our findings truly are. We won’t know for sure until much later in the season. However, we believe there are three predictions about the Eastern Conference we have right. Here we’ll break them down one by one, showing you why we believe we’ll see these results by the end of the NBA season.

 

1. Trae Young will be an MVP finalist

Trae Young has played just three games so far this season, but it’s already clear he’s taken his game to the next level. In his rookie year, Young averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds, with a field goal percentage of 41.8% and a three-point percentage of 32.4%.

In the first three games of his second season, Young is averaging 34.0 points, 9.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds, with a field goal percentage of 51.5% and a three-point percentage of 52.0%. His points per game have risen by 14.9, assists by 0.9, and rebounds by 2.3. Perhaps what’s more impressive, is the fact that his field goal percentage has risen by 9.7% and his three-point percentage by 19.6%.

Through three games this season, there’s been a clear difference in the way Young is playing. I know three games isn’t much to go off of, but let’s take a closer look into his numbers. During his rookie season, Young scored 30 or more points nine times in 81 games. In three games this season, Young has already done it twice. I foresee his number of 30 point games this season making a big increase, jumping from eight to somewhere between 20 and 30 times.

It’s obvious Young’s shooting has been better, as evidenced by his 9.7% increase on field goals and 19.6% increase on three-pointers. With the way he’s shooting and scoring right now, he honestly looks like MVP Steph Curry. I know that’s a big claim, but through his first three games, Young is averaging more points, assists and rebounds than Curry did in his unanimous MVP season (15-16), all while shooting 1.1% better from the field and 6.6% better from three-point range.

Young currently has his team sitting at 2-1, with their one loss coming to the 3-0 76ers by two points. There are still many games to be played, but if Young can keep up this play, he’ll surely have his team in the top half of the Eastern Conference by the end of the season. If he can do that, he’ll have my vote for MVP.

 

2. The Toronto Raptors will still make the Eastern Conference Finals

The moment Kawhi Leonard left Toronto to join the Clippers, was the moment every fan in the NBA counted out the Raptors this season. Yes, the Raptors are a much better team with Leonard. However, I don’t think it’s fair to completely count them out as Eastern Conference contenders.

We have to remember, Kawhi wasn’t the only player on this team. This roster still holds names like Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. As much as we liked to think he was, Leonard wasn’t a one man show. This Raptors roster was, and still is deep. Through their first four games, the Raptors have five players averaging 12.3 points or more. Those five players are Siakam, Lowry, VanVleet, Ibaka and OG Anunoby. This is evidence this Raptors roster is still built to win, even without Kawhi.

You could easily argue that teams without a star don’t go far, but I’d counter that by saying this team does have a star. Last season we saw Siakam have a breakout year, but he was always in the passenger seat because of Kawhi. Now he’s taking over as the driver.

Through the Raptors’ first four games, Siakam is averaging 27.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’s also shooting 48.1% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range. Guess what Kawhi averaged for the Raptors last season. 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 49.6% shooting from the field and 37.1% shooting from three-point range. Overall, Siakam’s numbers are better. I’m not saying Siakam is Kawhi, but I am saying he has taken over the star role for this Raptors team.

With a star player, another all-star (Kyle Lowry) and a roster full of great role players, there aren’t many teams in the Eastern Conference I’d take over the Raptors in a four game series right now. They may not have Kawhi, but they’ll still be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

 

3. The Kyrie Irving led Nets will miss the playoffs

The Kyrie Irving era has officially begun in Brooklyn, but it hasn’t gone as planned to this point. Irving has been putting up massive numbers, averaging 37.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals on 45.6% shooting from the field and 41.2% shooting from three-point range. Irving’s numbers are awesome, but that unfortunately hasn’t translated to wins for the Nets, as they currently hold a 1-2 record.

To be quite honest, this Nets team led by Irving reminds me a lot of the Cavaliers teams Irving led before LeBron decided to come back to Cleveland. I know Irving was a lot younger back then, but he was the star player for the Cavaliers. He was their best player, and he put up good stats, but he could never lead them to a winning season.

Since then, Irving has won an NBA title and made the playoffs a bunch of times, including a couple times with a Celtics team he led. Irving is better than he was when he was a young star leading the Cavaliers, but his tendencies are still the same. Irving can make a lot of great plays and score a lot of points, but none of that really matters if you don’t win. He’s never been the type of player to take a team far when he’s the only star. That’s what he is on this Nets team right now.

Brooklyn has an exciting future, as Kevin Durant will be returning from injury next season. Nets fans should be excited, but they may have to put that excitement on hold for one more season. I’m not so sure Irving can get it done with this team. If the Nets do make the playoffs, I don’t see them being anything above the No. 7 seed. Maybe Irving can squeeze them in, but right now I’m not confident in that.