Expectations are always rising for Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam.
Within three seasons, Siakam went from being relegated to the D-League, to lifting a championship, winning the Most Improved Player Award, signing a max contract, and now being named as an All-Star starter in his first season as the go-to guy. His growth is a product of relentless training and his freakish talents, but there’s also an uncanny humility about the way Siakam approaches his work.
“I just feel like it's been a really good season, a learning experience for me being able to be out there on the floor, seeing different things and adapting. Just from my journey, and who I am as a person and as a basketball player, that's something that always excites me. It helps me reach new heights, and I'm excited about the challenge. I love it. I love going through the struggles,” Siakam told reporters in a conference call with reporters this week.
“You want to win and be the best you can all the time, but I really appreciate just being out there on the floor, knowing that I struggled, knowing that I'm gonna miss a lot of shots, knowing that I'm going to make mistakes, and also knowing that I'm gonna work really hard to rectify those mistakes to be the best player I can be,” he said.
By any measure, Siakam established himself as a featured player this season. His scoring jumped another seven points to 24 per game, he’s averaging a career-high in assists. His game has grown to include more scoring on the perimeter and an expanded capacity to operate pick-and-rolls. Most importantly, Siakam accomplished all this while leading the Raptors to the third-best record in the league. There is a good chance that Siakam will earn his first All-NBA nomination at season’s end.
That being said, there are still more improvements to be made. Siakam’s scoring efficiency tumbled as his field-goal percentage dipped nine points as compared to last year, and his turnovers doubled. His skillset expanded, but his moves lack a certain polish and he could use more repetitions to tighten things up. There were also moments — notably against the Heat, Bucks, and other top teams — where Siakam didn’t rise to the occasion. There are still specific defenders that give Siakam pause.
The latest challenge is for Siakam to prove it in the playoffs, and not just as a quality second option behind a Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard. There will be tougher assignments, diligent game plans designed specifically to make him uncomfortable, and more double teams coming his way. Siakam approached the regular season with this in mind, and hopes that experience will serve him in the postseason.
“I’ve been getting attention all season long. It’s something that I’m definitely working on. Obviously the playoffs are more specific in terms of preparation, and teams are going to be ready for different things. I’m just gonna take it a day at a time. I know the actions that I’m involved in, and how teams would usually guard me, so I’m definitely working on those things and ready to adapt in every situation,” he said.
And again, Siakam isn’t afraid to fail. He understands that growth only happens through making mistakes. Last year’s championship run exposed weaknesses in his game, which informed how he designed his training. In response, Siakam expanded his range at the top of the floor, and laid the foundation on his budding midrange game. The upcoming playoffs will just be another step in his development.
”It's part of the journey, and at the end of the day I don't see it as being difficult, I just see it as the process of a player working to be the best that he can, so that's part of the journey and I accept it with all the good and the bad,” he added.
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