Toronto Raptors

As expected, Pascal Siakam is the new face of the Raptors

Pascal Siakam earned a four-year max contract extension, so here’s what it means for him, the Toronto Raptors and where his game needs to go next.

It was a question of “when” and not “if” the Toronto Raptors would agree to a rookie contract extension with fourth-year forward Pascal Siakam, and the “when” was announced Saturday morning.

According to ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, the two sides were able to agree to a four-year, $130 million max extension that kicks in for the 2020-21 NBA season. The deal does not include any player or team options, per The Athletic‘s Shams Charania, which means it will keep the league’s reigning Most Improved Player in Toronto through the 2023-24 season.

He was eligible for a five-year, $170 million extension.

For Siakam, this agreement marks yet another feather in a cap that’s been overflowing with feathers of late. Eight years ago he wasn’t even playing basketball, and it was considered something of a surprise when he was drafted 27th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Since then, he’s gotten better with each passing season and, despite only making about $4 million over his first three years in the league, he’s now become an NBA champion, the league’s Most Improved Player and has been awarded a four-year max contract. It’s a fantastic feel-good story, a major success for the scouting department and a testament to hard work paying off.

From the Raptors’ perspective, this deal just confirms what we already knew in the wake of Kawhi Leonard‘s departure: Pascal Siakam is the face of the franchise now.

While paying $32.5 million a year for a guy who’s unproven as a No. 1 option sounds dicey on the surface, it was a no-brainer for Toronto. Siakam is coming off his most impressive season yet, and there’s value in getting this deal done now, before having to deal with restricted free agency, to build that trust and identify him as “the guy” for this organization.

On the salary cap side of things, there’s no question this deal eats into considerable space, as the Raptors have lost $22 million in cap room. As ESPN‘s Bobby Marks notes, this takes them out of the running for 2020 free agents, but that’s not as big of an issue for a team that recently locked in Kyle Lowry with a one-year, $31 million extension. Toronto also has OG Anunoby on a rookie scale deal, not to mention the expiring contracts of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka coming off the books.

Siakam’s new agreement, Lowry’s extension and Fred VanVleet‘s $17.8 million cap hold will eat into most of Toronto’s cap room next summer. If they renounce VanVleet or lose him to another suitor in unrestricted free agency, they’ll have around $24 million in cap space to work with.

Last season, Siakam was an instrumental part of Toronto’s first ever championship run, and some would argue he was the second-most important player on the team behind Kawhi Leonard. Averaging 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from 3-point range (all career highs), Siakam was a two-way force.

Though his efficiency waned a bit in the postseason, Spicy P still upped his numbers to 19.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 24 playoff games.

All season long he benefitted from attacking defenses that were two focused on Kawhi, displaying proficiency in the pick-and-roll by ranking in the top five among players who played at least 50 games in terms of points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per NBA.com.

One thing to keep an eye on: Siakam’s 3-point efficiency plummeted in games without Kawhi, going from a blistering 41.9 percent in games with the Klaw to 24 percent in games without him. Continuing to improve his ability to create off the bounce, particularly with his own shot, will be a big step in picking up the mantle of the reigning Finals MVP.

Spicy P showed signs of being able to do so last season, as Nylon Calculus‘ Arjun Balaraman covered in detail, but it will be interesting to see how that growth in his game fares now that he’ll be drawing each opponent’s toughest defender on a nightly basis. A considerable amount of his points came from cuts or from having floor-spacers around him, and with both Kawhi and Danny Green gone, there will be more pressure on him to function as an initiator with the ball and develop a reliable pull-up jumper.

Given the way Siakam’s game has grown leaps and bounds since he first entered the NBA, however, there’s no reason to doubt he can get there. He’ll still have Lowry around to take some of the offensive pressure off, and Gasol is one of the league’s elite passing bigs who can find him on those savvy cuts.

Taking a look at recent MIP winners like Paul GeorgeGoran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo, they all went on to become established names and All-Stars at worst, and superstars and franchise cornerstones at best. The league seems to be pretty good at identifying the next big thing, and Pascal Siakam is no exception.

Next: The Step Back’s complete 2019-20 NBA season preview

The system is designed for risky overpays of this nature, and Spicy P will have to make good on it by continuing on this trajectory toward stardom. But based on what we saw last year, there’s little reason to gripe over a no-brainer contract extension like this.

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