Raptors rookie forward Pascal Siakam has started every game for Toronto so far this season and while he got his chance because of the preseason injury to Jared Sullinger, he’s earned the right to be there. The 27th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft is outperforming expectations and will be something special if he isn’t already.
“He’s earned it,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s not like we’re giving it to him. He’s earned it. He’s performing defensively, running the floor, his energy, his speed is huge. It’s not like we’re giving it to him, he’s earning it.”
The soccer player growing up in his native Cameroon has made a strong impression in a relatively short time playing basketball, going from barely being recruited to a likely spot in the second round after two seasons in college. With that size, nonstop motor and speed, he is an investment worth making with a second-round pick bound for the D-League.
Apparently Siakam was grossly underestimated and he’s shown that just maybe he should have been a lottery pick. Thru his first 17 games, the Raptors new starting power forward has been top 5 among rookies in rebounds and blocks, top 10 in minutes played, steals and field goal percentage and top 15 in scoring. Coming completely off the radar, he broke onto the NBA Rookie Ladder at number 7 on November 23rd.
Coach Casey has tried to keep things simple for his rookie by giving him a defined role and limiting his responsibilities. Just run and play hard. The veterans he is playing with in the starting lineup have noticed and appreciate the effort.
“(Siakam), he never gives up,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report. “He plays with a lot of energy. If he does a mistake, he’s trying to get back defensively and he does some good things on the opposite end. He doesn’t give up, that’s the best thing about him.”
“When I first came into the league he (Siakam) kind of reminds me of myself,” DeMarre Carroll said. “The energy, getting loose balls, playing hard on the defensive end. I told him now all you got to do is get the jumper, then they’ll call you a 3D player.”
It’s been a baptism by fire for the rookie forward. Already he’s started two games against the Cavaliers Kevin Love, the Kings DeMarcus Cousins and the Nuggets Kenneth Faried. He’s also faced the Warriors Draymond Green, Knicks Kristaps Porzingas, Clippers Blake Griffin and the Rockets Ryan Anderson. At this point, quite rightly, he’s starting to feel like he’s seen it all and survived.
“I feel good,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “(I know) I’m not the best, but that’s being a rookie. I am just trying to figure it out and I’m learning and trying as much as I can to fit in. It’s going pretty good, pretty well.
“I just try to bring my energy.”
But more than just an energy guy or a paint-bound defender, Siakam is getting comfortable playing against those difficult versatile stretch-fours as well.
“Ryan Anderson plays like that, Kevin Love plays like that. I don’t have the most experience in that area, but I’ve played against guys like that (now). I know what I have to do. I just try to take away (their) strength and at the same time just play my game.”
“(Siakam) just feels more comfortable,” Valanciunas said. “Decision-making, more comfortable offensively, defensively, he’s getting some experience.”
“Once he learns how to come in and tag and then get out to shooters he’s going to be really special,” Casey said. “Right now he’s probably staying a little too long in the help position, some unnecessary help which I’d rather have that than no help, but once he learns that he’s going to be really effective.”
The Raptors at 11 wins and 6 losses are running at precisely the same pace that took this team to a franchise record 56 wins last season, playing a rookie in the starting lineup doesn’t appear to have held them back. If Casey is right and Siakam can learn the nuances of playing NBA defense during his rookie season, the Raptors should be even better heading into the playoffs.
It’s only a month into his NBA career and Siakam does still have a lot to learn, but he’s already proven that he is better than advertised. This kid could be something special.