Key Highlights:

  • Pascal Siakam is the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 to start out the postseason with back-to-back 35/10 games
  • Siakam is too fast for Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis and too big for any of the Milwaukee Bucks other defenders
  • Siakam’s combination of size and skill is the key to the Indiana Pacers’ hyper-potent fastbreak attack

When the Indiana Pacers pulled the trigger on the blockbuster midseason trade that netted them Pascal Siakam, they were doing so with their eyes trained toward the future. Despite this year being the final year of Siakam’s contract, the Pacers seem confident that the two-time All-NBA forward will resign with them this offseason.

That means that Indiana has a two-way star at the heart of his prime to flank the dazzling Tyrese Haliburton and his blitzkrieg barrage. Together, the tandem, if built around properly, has a chance to be one of the best teams in the East for the next half decade.

What I (and I believe many others) underestimated about the deal is just how valuable Siakam would be for the team this postseason.

Unprecedented Numbers

Through the first two games of their first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Siakam is averaging 36.5 PPG, 12 RPG, 4 APG, and 1.0 BPG on 67.9% true shooting. According to the good people at Opta Stats, Siakam is the first player since the great Wilt Chamberlain (1967) to put up a 35 and 10 (in points and rebounds) in his first two playoff games.

Also, in Game 2, Siakam became just the sixth player in NBA history to put up a 35/10/5 with zero turnovers.

A Riddle Milwaukee Just Can’t Solve

More than the crazy numbers, Siakam has been essential in the Pacers’ ability to split the first two games of the series in Milwaukee. With Giannis Antetokounmpo missing in action with a calf injury, the Bucks are down their best option to defend Siakam. That has forced them to choose between Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis to see who will be the lucky raffle winner of the contest for defending Siakam.

Throughout his career, Portis has been an incredibly underwhelming defender (9th in defensive estimated plus-minus, per Dunks & Threes). So, Head Coach Doc Rivers wasn’t exactly salivating at the opportunity to have him guard Siakam. Besides, when the two have crossed paths, Siakam has been giving Portis the business (like this).

Because of this, Milwaukee started out the series with their two-time All-Defensive Team center (Lopez) on Siakam. Lopez is a great drop defender and rim protector. Plus, he’s very mobile for his size (7’1) and age (36). The problem is that Siakam is faster and more skilled than most fellows in his height bracket (6’8).

As a result, Lopez needs to concede space to Siakam, which opens the door for Spicy P (or should we start calling him Playoff P now?) to flow into his patented midrange jumper (first clip in the montage below). On the season, Siakam is in the 79th percentile in midrange efficiency and the 93rd percentile in midrange volume. If Lopez doesn’t give Siakam space, then Siakam will just blow right past him off the dribble (second clip). And since Siakam is a pretty big body himself, he has no issue challenging Lopez’s mountainous frame at the rim (third).

Toward the end of Game 2, Rivers had decided he’d seen enough of Siakam cooking Lopez and decided to try Portis on him again. Along with spoon feeding an easy matchup to Siakam, this decision also came with secondary consequences.

Since he wasn’t guarding Siakam, Lopez had to guard Myles Turner. Lopez can handle Turner on the interior just fine, but Turner’s perimeter prowess makes him a great counter to the drop coverage Milwaukee prefers to have Lopez stationed in.

Check out how Haliburton and Turner burn Lopez’s drop coverage with a simple pick-and-pop:

This likely goes without saying, but everyone else on the team’s playoff roster is simply too small to stand a chance against Siakam in isolation (even the 6’7 Khris Middleton).

A Transition Dynamo

The biggest selling point for Siakam joining the Pacers (outside of the fact that he’s one of the 40 best basketball players on the planet) is that he fits the Pacers’ identity perfectly. Specifically, he’s a great transition player on a team that loves to run and gun.

Everyone knows that playing fast creates easy points. It’s simple math. If you race up the court faster than the defense, chances are that you will gain access to a high value field goal attempt (like this).

But the part about playing with pace that people often forget to talk about is the cross-matches that it creates. For those who may not be fully aware, a cross-match is what happens when an offense gets up the court so fast that the defense is forced into matchups that are different than the ones they initially intended.

If you thought giants like Lopez and Portis were having a hard time containing Siakam, can you imagine how much more dire the stakes become when one of Milwaukee’s matador guards is paired with him?

In the play below, Siakam collects the rebound and flips the ball over to Haliburton. Much to his credit, Haliburton sprints down the floor, which forces Middleton (Siakam’s intended man) to guard Haliburton. As a result, Damian Lillard (a notoriously poor defender) is forced to shadow Siakam. Predictably, Lillard did an inadequate job, which forced Portis to help off the strong side corner, thereby creating an open corner three for Turner (who we already established is a good shooter for his position).

In Game 2 specifically, Siakam and the Pacers did a great job of pushing the pace any opportunity they had in order to create these cross-match situations. In the end, the Pacers outscored the Bucks 14 to 5 in fastbreak points (even that statistic is underselling the discrepancy in the two teams’ speed).

And it was Siakam’s combination of size and skill that made this method so effective for Indiana. He’s too big for most wings and forwards to guard him and too skilled for any lumbering big to hope they can contain him. As we’ve tried to explain before on this website, pure skill is better than pure size. But when you have both size and skill (like Siakam), you become a very threatening chess piece on the board that is basketball.

That’s what Siakam is – a versatile and dangerous chess piece. And now he’s helping the Pacers dish out checkmates way sooner than anyone could have reasonably expected.


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