Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was the runaway winner of the NBA’s 2018/19 Most Improved Player award, capturing 86 of 100 possible first-place votes, and he was certainly deserving of the honor. Siakam was one of the key contributors for the eventual NBA champions, guarding all five positions and increasing his numbers across the board – including a PPG bump from 7.3 to 16.9 – while scoring even more efficiently than he had before.
So far this season though, Siakam may have taken an even more significant step forward, as John Hollinger of The Athletic writes. After increasing his scoring output by 9.6 points per game a year ago, Siakam has tacked on 10.3 more PPG this season, boosting that number to 27.2 PPG overall. His usage rate has jumped from 20.8 to 30.5, and while his overall field goal percentage has dipped a little, he’s become a more dangerous threat from outside, knocking down 2.3 threes per game at a 37.3% rate (up from 1.0 and 36.9%).
As Hollinger outlines, Siakam has made his latest strides by finding creative new ways to score. He’s a threat in the post, off the dribble, in the pick-and-roll, and from beyond the arc.
Last season, one of Siakam’s Achilles heels was his inability to make above-the-break threes. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe observes (via Twitter), the 25-year-old only attempted 29% of his three-pointers from above the break in 2018/19, making just 27% on those attempts. This year, 75% of his threes are coming from that area, and he has converted 42% of them.
Siakam isn’t Kawhi Leonard – even if his early-season numbers are remarkably similar to Kawhi’s full-season 2018/19 averages – but he has quickly become the Raptors’ new go-to offensive play-maker in Leonard’s absence this season. While his numbers through 11 games may not be sustainable, he looks like an All-Star lock, and if he can maintain anything close to this pace, he figures to be in the All-NBA conversation too. However, the most intriguing Siakam subplot this season may be whether he can win his second consecutive Most Improved Player award.
As Hollinger writes, no one has come close to being named MIP for two straight seasons. Of the last 10 winners, more than half have regressed a year after winning the award, and even the ones that have continued to improve have only taken modest steps forward. But the early returns on Siakam this season suggest he’ll have a case.
There were certainly be other good MIP candidates this season. Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are a few of the early contenders, though some voters shy away from second-year players, which could hurt Doncic, Young, and SGA. For that matter, some voters are reluctant to pick repeat award winners in general, but the novelty of doing so for an award like MIP that never has repeat winners might actually work in Siakam’s favor.
What do you think? Is it realistic to expect Siakam to be in the Most Improved Player conversation for a second consecutive year? Could he actually win the award again? If you’re not bullish on his chances, which candidate(s) do you like so far?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!