It’s time to play.
Pascal Siakam has been cleared by his surgeon, cleared by the Raptors and is clear in his mind about the task ahead.
He will be making his return to an NBA floor for the first time after rehabbing off-season shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
He confirmed Saturday that he’s good to go on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets at Scotiabank Arena, which will be his first game in Toronto since prior to the pandemic, stretch of more than 600 days, dating back to February of 2020.
“I can't wait. It definitely sucked just being there watching,” said Siakam after practice at OVO Centre on Saturday. “I wanted to be out there throughout the whole process but I’m excited to be back out there and just be with your teammates and do whatever I can to help.”
Siakam joins a Raptors team that has exceeded expectations so far this season, posting a 6-4 record through 10 games and establishing themselves as one of the better defensive teams in the league, committing to an aggressive, ball-hawking style which has them leading the NBA in steals and fourth in forced turnovers.
Siakam has had a front-row seat and been animated his support all season.
“I like it man. We have a lot of length and guys that do the same things and … we play hard and we can get after it on defence, and I think that's gonna be our identity,” said Siakam. “The offence is going to come. we're gonna figure each other out. We're gonna get better. But the level of attention to detail on defence and making sure that we use our length and all that is going to be what's going to make us tough to play games. And I think that's what we want to be. And I love that.”
Nick Nurse figures adding his leading scorer from the past two seasons and an all-NBA player who broke into the league as a versatile defender should round out his coverage options nicely.
“I think that's what I'm probably most excited about now is it gives us another really good defending wing in that rotation,” said Nurse. “So you can say well I think it's nice to say [Sunday against the Nets] Pascal gets a crack at [Nets star Kevin Durant] then, OG, [then] Scottie gets him, there's three guys instead of two and then one of the other ones maybes gets [James] Harden and you've got some size and some foot speed and some others, you know, good defenders all of them so it's nice to have one more out there for sure.”
What Siakam can do to raise the ceiling of a team that has already raised the floor compared to most pre-season projections is fun to think about.
Siakam had a trying finish to the 2019-20 season, struggling miserably in the bubble and in the playoffs during the Raptors title defence.
In 2020-21 in Tampa, Siakam started slowly as well and clashed with Nurse, earning a team suspension early in the year for walking off the floor in frustration and later getting into a nasty verbal altercation with his head coach in March as the Raptors season was spiralling.
Both men claim it’s water under the bridge, but the question now is if Siakam can regain the form that made him an all-NBA player two seasons ago.
The rangy forward’s basic numbers were quite positive last season as he averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 45.5 per cent shooting while setting career highs for assists, steals and free throws made and attempted.
If there was an obvious area that suffered it was his three-point shooting. Siakam had evolved from a non-shooter early in his career to someone who could convert at or above the league average from deep on a high volume of attempts. He shot a respectable 35.9 per cent on 6.2 threes per game in 2020-21.
But last season Siakam shot just 29.7 from deep on 6.5 attempts as he shot more threes in transition and off the dribble.
A silver lining of his injury has been Siakam has had lots of time to work on his offensive package. He has been doing on-floor work for nearly four months and with limited restrictions as the injury was to his non-shooting shoulder.
“He looks good out there,” said Nurse. “The numbers [in practice] look great, but you never know. I say this: I think his [shooting] mechanics have become very good; he puts in the time and now he just has to get used to the speed of the game and all of that kind of stuff.
“I would imagine he will shoot the ball a lot better this year than a year ago because I think he does it right. He’s working hard and I think there will be opportunities there. I think he’ll have some good looks this year. I think our offence and spacing and things like that are improving. It still needs some work but it’s improving.”
How many threes has he put up since being able to start training in July?
“I lost count,” Siakam said.
But it hasn’t just been shooting. The time off has allowed him to dive into all elements of his game, combining film study with on-court work. He’s worked closely with Raptors assistant coach Earl Watson on his mid-range game and where to look for passing angles against stacked defences also.
“I think I got better definitely,” said Siakam. “Just continuing to play out of the post, understanding that most of the time you are going to have three people coming at you [so] you are not going to get to the rim every time. So having that mid-game is one of those things for me, even on my mid-range shot, just trying to get a little bit of lift and yeah, just reading the defence and how teams are playing you and try to score.
“At the end of the day they are going to double-team you and you have to pass out of it, but sometimes you have to figure out a way to score because that’s what great scorers do and I think that’s something I’m learning and I think I’m getting better at.
“Working with Earl, we watch a lot of different people. He would just randomly send me videos and the next day we would come in and talk about it and work on it on the court and just seeing different things. I think he is just opening my eyes to things I probably didn’t even see. It’s been great. Just continue to learn and hopefully, that translates onto to the court.”
We get to find out beginning Sunday.