The Evolution of, and Revolution that is, Pascal Siakam

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Via: insta/@tansley24

From the day he took his very first breath, Pascal Siakam was born be revolutionary. The youngest of seven siblings, grew up playing soccer, and his original career trajectory would have him positioned to be the tallest priest of all-time (not certain about that but I’ll do the necessary research one day).

At 16-years-old, he picked up a basketball. Him and his family had no idea of the places that the sphere would take him. The same year he turned 16, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics for their 16th NBA championship, and this was well before the “small-ball” revolution.

It wasn’t until five years later when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green made every single coach, executive, and anyone with an affinity for basketball, re-evaluate the way the sport is played. Siakam was drafted in 2016, right before the Warriors acquired Kevin Durant to complete the infinity gauntlet and won back-to-back NBA championships in 2017 and 2018, Siakam’s rookie and sophomore years.

Siakam wasn’t a highly touted prospect. Some experts had him going late in the first round, some in the second round, and some left him off completely. Fast forward to his sophomore year with Toronto, Siakam was part of the highly productive “bench mob”, helping the Raptors finish the 2017-18 season as the top seed in the East for the first time in franchise history.

Where he is today and what his numbers were over his first two years, make 2016-2017 feel as long ago as the hunter-gatherer era was.

Siakam’s combined averages from his rookie and sophomore seasons:

6.0 points (818 total)
4.0 rebounds (549 total)
1.3 assists (176 total)
50.6% shooting from the field (356 made/703 attempted)
21.6% shooting from distance (30 made/139 attempted)
136 games played (43 starts)

Those numbers provided no reason for anyone to suspect the immense improvement he’d show in his third year:

16.9 points (1354 total)
6.9 rebounds (549 total)
3.1 assists (248 total)
54.9% shooting from the field (519 made/945 attempted)
36.9% shooting from distance (79 made/214 attempted)
80 games played (79 starts)

There’s no doubt that Siakam spending a generous amount of time with the Raptors 905 contributed to his development. He won a G-League championship and was named G-League Finals MVP in 2017. However, the onus ultimately falls on the player and their individual desire to improve.

In his earlier years, teams wouldn’t hesitate to leave him wide open. In this sequence, he’s all by himself in the midrange and the Nets show little urgency in trying to rotate over and cover him.

He was in his sophomore year in this clip and what stands out is how quickly he wants to get rid of the ball. He was unpolished at that point and had only been playing organized basketball for five to seven years. In the years that proceeded, his biggest challenge was developing a skillset that would maximize his size and length.

It’s clear in this play that he’s evolved into a stretch four with handles and exceptional playmaking ability, which is precisely how he’s revolutionizing the expectations of a big man in the NBA. The confidence and belief in himself is a sign of how far he’s come. Siakam is showing the world why it was a mistake to judge him amidst a down year in Tampa.

Speaking of revolutionary, Siakam is on an absolute tear. The Raptors are currently on a six-game winning streak, sitting sixth in the east. and look poised to make a deal to add at the deadline. Siakam’s part in his teams recent success is immeasurable but the numbers are unmistakable. During that span, he’s averaging:

24.0 points
11.0 rebounds
5.5 assists
1.8 steals
1.3 blocks
49.5% shooting from the field
47.4% shooting from distance

On top of that, he’s one of three players averaging 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists while shooting at least 45% from the field. The other two are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic – both of whom could be considered revolutionary and generational.

Via: NBA.com

The term “unicorn” comes to mind when explaining Siakam’s impact. It’s uncommon to see this type of production coming from a player who had a path as unorthodox as Siakam. In fact, it’d be hard to pinpoint a player who had such a journey. Going back to when the Laker won that ‘ship in 2010, Siakam was only beginning to play basketball.

At that time, there was nobody like him in the league, with the closest comparison being a former Raptor, Chris Bosh. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were the last big men who were truly dominate on the inside of the block but when Bosh started to shoot it from deep, the league began to head in a different direction.

By the time he was drafted, there were no big men that had a diverse skillset like his own. Perhaps the closest comparison would be former teammate Marc Gasol. In his prime, Gasol was a crafty defensive anchor that could stroke it from deep with exceptional court vision.

Fast forward to almost six years from his draft day and big men who can’t get off at least one or two three-point attempts a game are seen as a liability. The game is played much faster now and instead of refusing to adapt, Siakam has become a leader in revolutionizing today’s NBA.

Like I said before, the term “unicorn” is used in the league to describe a player with a skillset so unique and rare. It’s time to start including a players character in that too because Siakam’s mental mindset is extraordinary. He’s proven that he’s much more than a one-trick pony and that when he’s doubted, there’s nothing anyone can say or do to hinder his game.

Siakam will use every bit of negativity as motivation and it’ll fuel his determination to move his game forward. He’s setting an example not just for younger players, but also as he leads the Raptors. He’s set an example for kids growing up in Africa. He’s made his impact in the G-League. He’s won an NBA championship, the 2019 Most Improved Player Award, and has been an All-Star.

Everything about his evolution has lead him to where he is today. Reliable, productive, and a great example for draftees to model their game after. Pascal Siakam will only continue to set the standard while changing the game.

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