Through career highs and personal lows, Raptors' Siakam merits all-NBA honours

Toronto Raptors' Pascal Siakam reacts during the second half of Game 5 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Monday, April 25, 2022, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)

With the worst behind him, the best is yet to come.

That’s how Pascal Siakam is approaching the news that he has earned all-NBA recognition for the second time in three seasons and following a well-chronicled interim in which he struggled badly in the post-season, struggled at times with his place in the Toronto Raptors organization and then had to recover from off-season shoulder surgery – all in the space of roughly 18 months.

“Going through what I've been through as a person and as a basketball player it makes me grow,” said Siakam, who has already started at his off-season base in the Orlando area. “And knowing how fast things can change, I also understand the responsibility that I have to keep the pressure on, keep my foot on the gas, knowing that there's always [new] levels I can get to.

“And just appreciate the journey … even when things aren't going the way that I want them to go, just understanding it's all a journey, and [those struggles are] going to be part of my story. So I'm super grateful and super blessed and I think it makes it even like more humble and more hungry to just want more.”

More of what Siakam is already providing is an enticing prospect for the Raptors and their fan base.

It took him a few weeks this past season to get his legs under him after sitting out training camp and the first 10 games of the regular season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

But from that point on? Siakam was on a level very few reached in the NBA this season, and arguably no Raptor ever has, at least with regard to his all-around play. As it is Siakam joined Vince Carter and DeMar DeRozan as the only players in franchise history to earn two all-NBA nods while playing in Toronto. At 28 years old and with two more years on his contract, there’s no reason to believe Siakam can’t be the first Raptor to be named all-NBA three times and more. 

His play in 2021-22 put him among the league’s elite, and he’s determined to stay there.

From Dec. 1st on Siakam averaged 23.8 points per game to go along with 8.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists while shooting 49.9 per cent from the floor. No Raptor has ever had a 23/8/5 season and the only players to do it for all of ’21-22 were two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, four-time MVP LeBron James and Luka Doncic, who has been named first-team all-NBA for three consecutive seasons.

The Raptors team performance reflected Siakam’s rise, as they were 9-13 and in 12th place in the Eastern Conference on Nov. 30th and finished 39-21 – the seventh-best record in the league over the final 60 games of the season – on their way to 48 wins and a fifth-place finish in the East.

Siakam’s playoff performance echoed his regular season – a slow start followed by a strong finish as he put up 27 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 54.7 per cent shooting in the last three games of Toronto’s first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

But having a career’s worth of highs and lows in the space of three seasons, Siakam feels like he only getting started, that he can take his experiences – good and bad – and raise his level in his seventh season and beyond.

“I’ve evolved as a player and there’s different things I have to work on, understanding the level I want to reach as a player,” said Siakam, who only started playing organized basketball a decade ago. “So I’m going to work on different things that you have to do and find things that are going to give us an edge.

“I’m excited about it, and just curious about what levels I can reach, and just knowing my journey and now to where I am, I feel like a lot of things are attainable. So I want to find out on my own and want to see if I can do those things.”

Siakam stretched himself in other ways this past season. After winning a title in 2019 alongside veterans like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol, Siakam – along with Fred VanVleet – suddenly found himself in a veteran leadership role that was unfamiliar to him and initially uncomfortable.

But Siakam embraced it, tentatively at first and then with more enthusiasm as he realized that players who are still trying find their way in the NBA benefit from feedback and encouragement from someone who has won a title, been an all-star and is among the league’s best players, especially after being a late first-round pick not too long ago in 2016.

“There’s that humble factor of – like, I know the level that I’m on – but sometimes I’m like, man I don’t know if they need my help, or things like that, I always ask myself those questions,” said Siakam. “But I got better man, like those [questions] kind of like go away once you start seeing the feedback that you get from it and it just it makes me happy … to know that I can talk to somebody that is going through a similar period that I've been through or something and if I can give them one pointer or two to actually help them, like, I think that that will give me like great gratitude.

“So I think that just knowing that encouraged me to continue to do that … I think that's something I learned going through this journey: to be great, you have to get out of your comfort zone.”

Siakam’s determination to push through, get better and be uncomfortable as he pursues the limits of his considerable talent has now made him an all-NBA player twice. That he wants more from himself should give the Raptors optimism about what is coming next.

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