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Pascal Siakam must have felt like he was on top of the basketball world in February, 2020. He had won an NBA championship just nine months earlier, was poised for another deep playoff run with the Eastern Conference contending Toronto Raptors, and was about to appear in his first NBA All-Star game alongside the cream of the crop of basketball.
Everything changed in the matter of a month, with the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping through North America and forcing the NBA to suspend its season indefinitely. While quarantined in Toronto, Siakam was reportedly unable to train, with no facilities open as authorities scrambled to contain the virus in Ontario. When the NBA did return in late July 2020 in the infamous Orlando bubble, Pascal was a shell of himself. His poor shooting numbers – 39.6 percent from the field and only 18.9 percent from three – considerably hurt Toronto’s playoff ambitions, which ended in a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the second round.
Siakam’s woes continued well into the following season, in which his inconsistency and injury issues were a microcosm of the Raptors’ disappointing campaign. A well-publicized row with head coach Nick Nurse and a bout with the coronavirus, which he admitted had caused him to lose 10-15 pounds, tied an ugly bow on a forgettable season for the team and its star forward.
After coming off shoulder surgery in June, the Raptors organization, the fans, and Siakam himself will expect the forward to get back to his peak, and hopefully even exceed it this coming season.
No more excuses
Siakam missed Toronto’s final four regular-season games in 2021 after suffering a partially-torn labrum injury in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies on May 8. He underwent arthroscopic surgery in June and was given an approximate recovery timeline of five months, meaning he’ll miss the start of the new season. (Read our breakdown of the injury and recovery here.)
The surgery is nothing to worry about, as torn labrum injuries are common in the NBA and are routinely operated on successfully. Pascal is expected to make a full recovery and will hope to step his game up, with his lingering injury behind him.
Once he gets over the recovery process, there is no doubt that Siakam will see this upcoming season as a personal challenge; the type of challenge he has always craved, in both his career and his life.
With Kyle Lowry’s off-season departure, Siakam will likely see even more of the ball in the half-court. His prowess in transition is well-known, and paired with the uber-athletic rookie Scottie Barnes, the Raptors may get their devastating fast-break up and running again.
Pascal will have to be efficient in the half-court if he is to find his All-Star level form. He has scored over 20 points-per-game each of the past two seasons, and it’s fair to expect him to extend that streak. On his day, he is one of the best and most natural scorers in the front-court throughout the NBA, using his post moves and shooting range to humble opposing defences on a nightly basis.
Despite being in the prime of his career, Siakam might still be able to develop into an even better player, considering his astronomical rise from a raw athletic prospect to a premier scorer in the NBA. If, over this extended off-season, he has worked on refining his game and added new tools to his bag, the sky’s the limit. While his recovery from surgery is an obvious hindrance, he and his team are likely taking this time off to grow his game, within the parameters set by his rehabilitation.
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What to improve
One of the biggest issues in Siakam’s play over the past season and a half has been his three-point shooting. Firing at a putrid 18.9 percent clip in the bubble and a disappointing 29.7 percent last year, the Cameroonian let himself down from deep. Normally a weapon, his outside shooting instead became an impediment for both him and his squad.
In order to be a more efficient scorer in the half-court, he’ll have to be able to rely on his shot from beyond the arc. With the expected inclusion of Scottie Barnes, who’s shooting struggles were well documented heading into the draft, Siakam will have to be dependable from deep in a front-court that isn’t very comfortable away from the basket.
If he is able to hover around the 35 percent accuracy mark, it would be a considerable change and will make him more dangerous offensively. If he can exceed that mark, we could be looking at the return of an All-Star calibre player.
Return to elite defence
Until last season, Siakam had been a good, sometimes great, defensive player. Between 2016 and 2020, Pascal averaged a 104.2 defensive rating, far above the league average, which usually sits at around 110. His length and athleticism help him stay in front of virtually any ball-handler, and recover if ever he is beaten off the dribble.
His defensive rating rose to 111.4 last season, a career-low for #43 in terms of defensive production. His stops came fewer and further between, allowing opponents to score on 47.8 percent of their field-goal attempts and 40.7 percent from three. In comparison, he limited opponents to only 39.7 from the field and 31 percent from three in his best defensive season.
Siakam’s 2020-2021 season was awkward, to say the least. Injuries and distractions kept him from playing up to the lofty standards he had set since he entered the league, on both ends of the floor. With a Raptors team that needs him to step up, there’s a good chance Spicy P rises to the challenge and has one of his best seasons yet.