RAPTORS BLOG: Pascal Siakam-Fred VanVleet’s long-standing chemistry pays off

Plus, picking out the Eastern Conference stars and my favorite Raptors to deal with over the years

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We went from the sublime to the ridiculous when it came to Fred VanVleet.


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Some of the shots he took in the Raptors’ Sunday win over New Orleans looked downright silly and left you shaking your head.

How exactly is it that VanVleet turned into Damian Lillard with elite defense?

Even the biggest VanVleet fan couldn’t have seen this coming. He can strike from anywhere on the ground and has unlimited confidence.

Add to that Pascal Siakam playing the best basketball of his career (yes, even better than his second season in the All-NBA team or in the playoffs en route to the NBA title), the solid two-way play of OG Anunoby and a bench that is finally producing and all of a sudden the Raptors are a team that no one really wants to meet in the playoffs.

The Siakam-VanVleet partnership is so natural. As VanVleet said, they almost always know what the other wants to do or is about to do on the pitch. But even when they are apart, they thrive. Remember all those Draymond Green with more athletic comparisons than a young Siakam used to have when he first broke a few years ago? Well, all of a sudden Siakam is playing the center-point role that Green thrived on when VanVleet goes to the bench.


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The increased play load agrees with Siakam. He has by far the most efficient offensive stretch of his career and his turnovers aren’t really on the rise.


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Siakam has spent 47% of the season at the center, according to basketball-reference.com. Last year the number was 18% and it was 9% the previous two years. He might not have the mass to hit with bigger crosses, but there aren’t many of those guys left. The rest of the time, Siakam looks like a confrontational nightmare for the other centers.

Speaking of giants, it’s nice to see Jonas Valanciunas thrive. Talent has never been an issue, nor has work ethic or personality. But the game has changed, so Valanciunas, who would have been a perennial star had he entered the NBA a decade earlier, had to change with that. Thanks to him for doing this by adding a lethal three-point shot and finding a way to make his defensive mobility issues not punchy enough to keep him off the ground.


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Valanciunas would be at the top of my list of favorite players that I have covered over the years. Genuine, funny, approachable, caring, just a great guy. VanVleet is also up there, along with DeMar DeRozan and Luis Scola.

I have plenty of time for DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Jose Calderon, Quincy Acy, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher, Bebe, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller, and even Mr. Curmudgeon himself, Kyle Lowry . (Probably forgetting a few too and some dropping points for being terrible quotes).

My best attempt at picking the stars of the Eastern Conference:

Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid will surely start up front, and that is fully deserved as each has a legitimate record for the NBA MVP, although Steph Curry or Nikola Jokic will likely win.


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DeMar DeRozan deserves to start for the first time since 2018 (and for the third time overall, which is quite an achievement). It’s possible that Trae Young will overtake James Harden and maybe Harden will supplant DeRozan, but Chicago is a huge market so I think he will hold up. Either way, expect all three to be part of the team.

So that’s six players, with six to play.

For me, VanVleet’s recent push has taken it from a fair choice to a no-brainer.

Zach LaVine should be there too.

I’ll take Jarrett Allen over Darius Garland, but it was a tough choice.

Jrue Holiday does my ballot (note, I don’t have an official ballot this year because I usually shoot with Mike Ganter). He was as good as he could be defensively and very good offensively too.


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Domantas Sabonis (19.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 58% shooting) also gets the nod, even though Indiana is horrible.

So the question is whether Jimmy Butler is going there because he was awesome when he played, or are 23 games too few? He’s missed almost half of Miami’s games, so sadly he’s out, which means Miami won’t have a star this year.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown haven’t been consistent enough and the team has been a huge disappointment so they’re out. Bradley Beal is also not in the running.

So that leaves a place. The vote ends on January 22, so I’ll leave it blank for now.

The main candidates are: Garland, LaMelo Ball, Siakam, Khris Middleton, Miles Bridges. And Butler, should he come back this week and play just about every game until Jan. 22, I guess.


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Terrence Ross.

Ross continues to be on a radiator before the trade deadline. He was 32 off the bench on Sunday, although Orlando narrowly failed against Washington. It will be asked.

The guy the Raptors traded Ross for, Serge Ibaka, struggled to recover from his back problems but shot 7-8 and could have been the choice here, too.


Chris Boucher.

Boucher reversed his season. Less was more for the great man. He simplified his game and went back to being an energy player and it worked. He was instrumental in Toronto’s winning streak and is even in the process of closing some games. The Boucher-Precious Achiuwa combination works well.

Boucher has averaged 7.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks in 20.7 minutes over his last five games. He’s 1-10 to three at this point, but is +37, so that doesn’t really matter.


1 Fred VanVleet (again)

2 Pascal Siakam

3 Jonas Valanciunas



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