The Toronto Raptors have cruised through the regular season and are making their push to the NBA Finals, a place they might not be without their key role player Pascal Siakam.
Following a rocky start against the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors have solidified themselves as a serious NBA Finals contender this year. After dropping game one to Orlando 104-101, the Raptors surged back to win the next five including game one of their second-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Last year during the 2018 playoffs, the Raptors suffered an early exit when they were swept by a Lebron James led Cleveland Cavaliers team. It was a watershed moment for the Toronto franchise as they did some rebuilding in the offseason, most notably by signing former San Antonio Spurs star, Kawhi Leonard.
Although Leonard has been an important asset for the Raptors this season, he hasn’t been the only forward to make a mark for Toronto. Enter Pascal Siakam, a third-year player out of New Mexico State who has time and time again been there for the Raptors when they needed him most.
With the NBA’s second-best record, the Toronto Raptors head into game three of the second-round winning five out of their last six and are considered a serious threat to make the NBA Finals. If they make it to the finals, they may just have to give thanks for their emerging star and premier role-player Pascal Siakam.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Pascal Siakam Is Almost a Lock to Win The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award
Although the NBA Awards aren’t announced until June 24th, Siakam is a popular pick to win most-improved player. Not only has the New Mexico State grad put up stellar numbers this season with 16.9 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game, Siakam’s improvement from his first two years in the NBA also cannot be ignored. During his first two seasons, he averaged only 6 points per game and 18.15 minutes per game, compared to his 31.9 minutes per game during his 2018-2019 stint.
Siakam, who has a 7’3” wingspan, has been evolving his play all season long. Last year, he wouldn’t have dreamed about breaking into the 30% line from beyond the arc, but this year is a different story. The 6’10” power forward put up a 36.9% clip from downtown, increasing from 22% in the 2017-2018 year.
Siakam’s improvement has also opened up the floor for the rest of Toronto’s players. For example, Kyle Lowry has had his best year as far as assists go, averaging 8.7 per game. As Siakam establishes himself as the third best player on the Raptors, Toronto’s star players, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry will have less pressure on them to carry the Raps through the playoffs.
2. Pascal Siakam Could be The NBA’s Next Best Thing
Giannis, Simmons, Embiid, Doncic, the list goes on and on as far as young NBA stars go, but Siakam could be the next one to join the ranks of NBA young studs. Established as the Raptors’ third best player, Siakam could have more duties in years to come as Leonard has a player option for the 2019-2020 season and the jury is still out on whether he will return or not.
In games without Lowry and Leonard, Siakam has stepped up. Three of Siakam’s best games have been without one or two of Toronto’s stars in Leonard or Lowry. At the start of 2019, Siakam scored 30 points against arguably the best team in the NBA, Milwaukee, put up 33 points and 14 rebounds against Atlanta on February 7th and exploded for 44-and-10 against the Washington Wizards on February 13th.
Siakam seems to be the missing piece the Raptors have been looking for. And if Leonard leaves after this season, it could be Pascal’s year to shine up north.
3. Siakam Ended The Regular Season on Fire
As Pascal Siakam helps the Raptors potentially make an NBA Finals push, remember how he performed toward the end of the regular season. In the month of March Siakam averaged 20 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, putting up one of his best performances on March 20th against Western Conference power, the Oklahoma City Thunder, with 33 points and 13 rebounds.
When Siakam is hot, so are the Raptors. Toronto won 6 out of their last 7 regular season games with Pascal putting up two double-doubles and a 31 point performance against the New York Knicks on March 28th.
The Raptors and their fans are hoping for a bounce-back postseason performance this year after being swept by the Cavs, and Siakam might just be the Raptors’ Arya Stark to help the North remember. With Lowry, Leonard and Siakam all clicking together the Raptors could skate through the Eastern Conference and put up a fight against the Western Conference candidate in the NBA Finals.
4. Pascal Siakam is Putting up Big Numbers in The Playoffs
Siakam’s dominance did not end when the regular season did, as his play has risen to the test of the NBA post-season. His 23.3 points per game in the first seven games of the playoffs make him the second highest scorer on the Raptors, following Leonard. Siakam has also been a monster on the glass, averaging a team-leading 8 boards per game in the postseason.
As the Raptors shine so does Siakam’s versatility. Racking up two double-doubles against the Magic, Siakam has solidified himself as a down the stretch player being one of two Raptors with two double-doubles this postseason, the other of course, being Toronto star, Kawhi Leonard.
As Siakam emerges as the go-to man for the Raptors after Leonard, his stats will continue to rise. A major contributor to Siakam’s surge in scoring and rebounding statistics is the amount of time he is playing per game, something that is also on the rise this postseason. After averaging 31.9 minutes per game in the regular season, Siakam’s playtime has increased to 37.6 minutes per game which leads the team.
As Siakam gets more and more minutes, he will continue to beef up his stats making him the breakout star the 2019 playoffs have been looking for.
5. Pascal Siakam Has Only Been Playing Organized Basketball for Seven Years
Making it to the NBA takes a lifetime of hard work and dedication. Ask almost any NBA player and they’ll tell you they started playing basketball as soon as they knew what a basketball was. Pascal, starting at the age of 16, took another path to the NBA.
Growing up in Cameroon, Pascal was initially drawn to soccer but it wasn’t until he attended a basketball camp run by NBA player Luc Mbah a Moute where he found his passion for the sport. With his father always wanting one of his sons to make it to the NBA, Siakam enrolled in a Texas prep school where he was then recruited by New Mexico State.
The rest is history as Siakam looks to be playing on the biggest stage of his career in the coming months, where the Raptors have the fourth-best chance of winning the NBA Finals. If the Raptors cruise through the Eastern Conference and get to a spot they have never been before, it could be on the back of potential breakout star, Pascal Siakam.