What does Raptors’ Pascal Siakam have to do to take another leap?

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Toronto Raptors' Pascal Siakam, top, goes up for a basket during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Houston Rockets Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Saitama, near Tokyo. (Jae C. Hong / AP)

Coming hot out of the gates with a season-opening line of 34 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, Pascal Siakam looked poised to become the Toronto Raptors’ No. 1 option this season.

But while the first audition as “the guy” went off without much of a hitch – the only negatives being that he fouled out and was an inefficient 11-for-26 from the field – the question still remains: What does Siakam have to do to take that leap and become the Raptors’ definitive No. 1 option?

On the first episode of Free Association this season, Sportsnet’s Raptors and NBA podcast, hosts JD Bunkis and Donnovan Bennett discussed the matter.

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“I think the next step is the toughest one to take,” Bennett began. “It’s not just about improving your shot or your handle or your understanding of the game. It’s taking the fact that, on the scouting report now, 82 nights a year your name is first, it’s in bold, and when you watch tape, you’re red-dot guy, you’re the guy who people are gonna take out the laser-pointer and circle. And he’s never had that.”

To Bennett’s point, Siakam is in his fourth NBA season and has never been counted on to be a go-to guy – let alone a max player — with stars such as Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry around him.

“He’s always been a role player, he’s always been someone who would out-work you and out-run you down the floor. That’s where he got his points and his value,” Bennett continued. “Now he’s being asked to create for himself and others in the half-court, to be able to accept the double team – recognize where it comes and where it’s coming for him so he can create the correct pass. That’s an entirely different thing than what he was being asked.

“So if you’re saying, ‘Well, he averaged 4.2 points [in his rookie season] and then 7.3 and then 16.9, then based by that math he’ll just keep going up and up and up,’ but it’s different. And I think that’s the biggest adjustment.”

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Bunkis agreed with Bennett’s assessment of Siakam, but narrowed in on a few specifics.

“I don’t expect him to be 34, 18 and five every night, but I don’t really know what the ceiling is from a scoring, rebounding and assists standpoint if he’s gonna have the ball and a usage rate as high as we saw in Game 1,” Bunkis said. “For me, it’s two things: It’s the above-the-break shooting and the ability to have some semblance of a variety of his offence rather than just get to the basket, and then being able to do that consistently. If he can pull those two things off I don’t even know what to say the ceiling is.”

Bunkis, also one of the hosts of Good Show on Sportsnet 590 the FAN, highlighted an intriguing discussion he had with Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck in regard to what Siakam’s potential might actually be.

“We had Howard Beck on Good Show the other day and when I asked him who (Siakam) reminds him of he said, ‘Shades of Kevin Garnett,’” Bunkis said. “I don’t think he’ll ever be KG good, but can he be 80 per cent? Eighty-five per cent? What is the ceiling for him? To me there’s nothing more exciting about this season than seeing what Pascal Siakam can become.”

If Siakam can become even 80 per cent of a surefire future Hall-of-Famer, the Raptors will be in good hands.

You can check out the entire episode of Free Association in the video above, where Bunkis and Bennett also discuss who Toronto’s No. 2 option is, whether the New Orleans Pelicans should be concerned for their future over Zion Williamson’s injury and if LeBron James is even a top-three player in the state of California anymore.

For this one and more great podcasts from Sportsnet head to Sportsnet.ca/Podcasts to listen and subscribe for free.

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