Cameroonian forward Pascal Siakam’s rise to a position of dominance at the Toronto Raptors is one of best must-tell stories in the NBA at the moment.
After being selected with the 27th overall pick by the Raptors in 2016, he was seconded to its G League affiliate (Raptors 905), where he won a championship and a Finals MVP accolade.
Fast forward to the 2017-18 season, he rejoined the Raptors ranks but was coming off the bench for Congolese forward Serge Ibaka and unfortunately part of the team that was swept by LeBron James at the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Playoffs.
Last season, the BWB Africa alumn was a key player in a slightly changed championship-winning Toronto squad that was without DeMar DeRozan but included Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
With a notable 2018-19 regular season showing, Siakam further showcased his star pedigree in the postseason and in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting in his first finals game of his career, and led the Raptors to a convincing 118-109 win over the then-defending champion Golden State Warriors.
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Not only was he the best player on the night, in the presence of Leonard and Stephen Curry, but he also joined the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Brant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant as the only players in NBA Finals history to record a stat line of at least 30 points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and two threes made.
With the departure of Leonard in the offseason, this could be the opportunity for Raptors coach Nick Nurse to take the same chance that former Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd took on a 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounpo in 2017 and made him the squad’s leader, and looking at what the team has achieved since then, it was not a bad move.
The Raptor’s core, with the exception of Leonard and Green, remains unchanged and they will want to perform like defending champions. They potentially won’t lift the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, but making Siakam their centrepiece, will at least see them into the postseason.
The team is only left with one All-Star in Kyle Lowry, but Siakam could potentially be the next to be bestowed with that honour.
Last season, if the first returns were anything to go by, he was almost an All-Star. With his new swagger and numbers to back it up, it would not be surprising if made the All-Star Game this year, even as a reserve.
He is the current Most Improved Player in the league, just like Antetokounmpo was in 2017 and if he continues on his current trajectory, he could make multiple appearances at the NBA’s midseason showcase and maybe even enter the MVP discussion in a few seasons to come.
On a recent visit to Africa, Raptors president Masai Ujiri spoke highly of the young African talent at the team which includes Siakam and Nigerian-British forward OG Anunoby, who could also come into his own with more minutes on the floor this coming season.
His biggest hype at the moment is his signing of a $130 million max contract extension over four years with the franchise. This solidifies his potential lengthy stay at the franchise and could be a great starting point in making him a focal point as Lowry gets older.
Last season saw his average 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and three assists per game while getting about 32 minutes of playtime per game. This numbers will potentially increase as he will get more touches of the ball in the absence of a ball-dominant player like Leonard.
He already has the presence on the court, a fearless disposition because he has recognised his own potential, and is still young with room to grow both in age and skill.
Making Siakam the face of the franchise will be a fitting move for a franchise that also prides itself on international diversity. It will raise the profile of a young man that initially wanted to be a Catholic priest, started playing basketball at age 16 and became a champion in his third season.