Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum took very different paths to get to their NBA dream. Siakam famously was sent to school in his native Cameroon to be a priest before finally playing organized basketball at the age of 15. Tatum, on the other hand, was a five-star recruit out of high school. But both of them are now the leading scorers on two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Let’s take a look at their 2019/20 campaign to see if one is truly better than the other.
It is eerie how similar these two are in terms of their stats for the season. Even their effective field goal percentage is the same (efg% takes into account that 3-point shots are worth one more point that 2-point shots). Both Siakam and Tatum are the focal points of their teams’ respective offense.
Siakam made his big jump last year, winning the Most Improved Player Award, but this year took on the leading role on offense. Tatum had a memorable run in the second half of this season, earning himself a first All-Star selection. The apparent area for both of them to improve is their playmaking. This year it wasn’t as necessary as they had point guards who could create for them, but it may be the vital next step in both their games.
The two have different styles of play. Tatum, who famously trained with NBA legend Kobe Bryant in the offseason, has more a smooth isolation style type game. Siakam has his patented, herky-jerky movements and spin move. Tatum has also improved in the transition game, an area that Siakam has owned since he came into the league. Their respective teams have found ways to help them flourish with their style.
The Toronto Raptors, one of the best defensive teams this season, like to force turnovers, push, and get out in transitions. The Boston Celtics run several sets that get Tatum isolations or pick and rolls, where he now excels in understanding by the defender and creating shots.The most significant difference may actually come here. Tatum is four years younger than Siakam and was drafted a year later. He is still on his rookie contract and will be through the 2020/21 season. Siakam’s max extension that he signed last summer will kick in next year. Siakam’s meteoric rise from energy boost off the bench to leading scorer on a two-seed can be attributed to his late pickup of basketball.
This means he might have more room to grow, but only time will tell, and we might already be at peak Siakam. Tatum is younger and has also shown star power on the big stage (2018 East Finals vs. Cavs). We were shaping up to get a Celtics v Raptors second-round matchup. However, the NBA suspended its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, when the NBA returns, we might be able to get a final answer.