It was with some trepidation that Pascal Siakam was slotted into the starting lineup in the preseason and there were serious doubts he’d be a starter in the regular season opener, but the Raptors rookie forward has been quickly earning respect and he has started in every game for Toronto so far.
“That’s one thing I learned about the League is it’s all about respect,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “When you first come nobody is going to give you respect, you got to earn it, you got to go and take it.”
Siakam wasn’t expected to start for the Raptors this season. He was supposed to be the third string power forward who would hone his craft in Mississauga with the NBA D-League Raptors 905. However, things can change in a heartbeat in the NBA and head coach Dwane Casey was pretty much forced into giving the rook a shot at the starting job after Jared Sullinger was injured in preseason and not without some measure of surprise, Siakam has been quickly earning respect from his teammates and opponents alike.
“When you come in the first day, nobody is going to respect you,” Siakam said. “You see those guys who have been playing for years, they don’t know you so you got to go out there and show you can ball and by the end of the summer they were, ‘man, he can do some things’ and that’s how you earn respect. Go onto the court and play with them, fight with them in a game. Kyle (Lowry) and them say, ‘he can do this, he can do that.’
“With opponents it’s the same thing. Hitting a couple of jump shots, then hey man, he has a good jump shot, he can shoot, he can make that shot, so we guard him better. It’s going to take time and I know that.”
Siakam has hit his shots at a high percentage since day one of the season. He manages to catch defenses napping with his speed to be the first down the court for an easy layup at least once a game and he’s hitting enough short range jump shots to make his defender pay attention to him. The further the Raptors get into the season, the wider his array of shot attempts has been.
His confidence is growing, his teammates are encouraging him to shoot and Siakam’s opportunities to contribute have continued to expand. Over the last four games he’s been averaging 8.8 points on 65.4 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 22.2 minutes of action.
“It helps when your vets tell you to shoot it when you are open,” Siakam said. “Whenever I get an open jump shot I just keep shooting them and try to make them.
“I have always been confident. Coming into the league I knew it was a man’s league and everyone is big, strong, but I just have confidence to go out there and play. It helps when you have vets that encourage you and tell you to just go out and play. That helps a lot. It gets the nerves out of the way and just go out and compete like you would do when you were in college.
“The more minutes I get to make sure I know my role, what the team wants me to do, the better. I am just ready to be out there and (play) whatever minutes I get, just go out there and do what I am supposed to do and try my best.
“The one thing they don’t to have to wonder is if I am going to bring the energy. I am always going to bring it.”
To say Siakam has been a pleasant surprise so far would be an understatement. He has filled a huge hole in coach Casey’s rotation with Sullinger out and while he isn’t expected to have the impact of the Raptors injured big free agent addition, the opportunity to see what the rookie can do against NBA starters is undoubtedly worth more than an extra win or two early in the season.
And that’s the most the 8-4 Raptors could reasonably attribute to being forced into playing the rookie ahead of schedule, maybe another win or two. Siakam is earning respect and the Raptors have learned they have a rookie that can play.