Why Pascal Should Be Your Raptors MVP
People who don’t enjoy the nature of sports generally use lame excuses like “its a waste of time” and “what do you gain from it” and my personal favourite, “you use money, energy and time on something that provides nothing for you.” However what those people don’t understand is the reason it provides nothing for them, is because there is no passion, no urge to place their emblem on your social shield and run into the battlefield that is your Twitter/Instagram timeline with a brain full of arguments and rebuttals. However, all of us in this sports community share this passion and this urge. When our teams are struggling we mourn with them, we suffer through the disparages of losses toppled over each other. Losing sucks, and it lasts really long. Bad decisions are followed often by bad luck with picks, trades and signings that end up damaging your squad even more. This side of the spectrum has been prevalent in Toronto sports culture for quite some time, especially the young Toronto Raptors. However, all those years of losing and all the games in which the L was practically settled before tip-off, pay off the very instant a team figures out their route to success. When your team learns the scheme of success and you begin to see the wins pile up, it makes you that much more grateful. The Toronto Raptors have experienced both the extremely bad and the overwhelmingly good. As a sports fan and a frequent watcher of Raptors games, I have been through the proverbial meat grinder when it comes to this team’s successes and failures. We’ve been able to recently recover from our shambolic Chris Bosh days beginning with the establishment of Masai Ujiri followed by many years of building. However still, the Raptors have not reached the pinnacle which is an NBA championship (thank you LeBron).
As a kid, I always watched the NBA Draft, which is a trend that has become almost like a tradition. I never miss the draft, it's my favourite night. The evening all these young and hungry athletes take their opening steps, either to a short potentially injury-ridden experience or a long and fortuitous NBA career. Some are picked early due to hype and experience, others are chosen later due to age and injuries. However, teams work extremely hard to be the ones that get the most from the draft with the least amount of assets used. “The sleeper pick” is what they call it. I was always envious of the luck of other teams being able to draft GREAT and very good players incredibly late in the draft. Players such as Manu Ginobili, Isaiah Thomas, Draymond Green, Giannis Antetekounmpo all happened to go way later in the draft than one who’s uneducated on the topic would probably expect. I always wished we would be able to scout the correct talent, play the right cards and draft someone of high skill and potential for much less than it should be. On May 17th, 2016, my prayers were finally answered. In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Raptors were in a weird position in the NBA. Coming off another lacklustre showing in the playoffs, the Raptors had the 9th overall pick due to a previous trade. With this selection, they chose Jakob Poeltl, a young Austrian centre with a high ceiling and good fundamental skills. I was content but not blown away obviously. But little did I and every other Raptors fan know, that bit of late round magic was going to bless the city of Toronto. With the 27th pick in the draft, the Toronto Raptors selected a skinny African-born forward with a long wingspan and an even wider frame. I had to double take when I heard the name because Pascal sounded like a visual artist to me. He reminded me of a large painter every time I remembered his name. Little did I know at the time, he was an artist, he just chose to express it on the court, with his play.
Pascal was not seen as a top or even relatively highly touted prospect going into the draft. His stock wasn’t impacted by Toronto choosing him as well, it seemed like the whole world was oblivious to a secret that was looking them in the face. Siakam hails from Cameroon, where surprisingly he is one of three brothers that initially had very little interest in basketball. In fact, the first time Siakam picked up a basketball was at the age of 15 when he joined NBA Player Luc Mbah A Moute’s camp in Cameroon after the player gave Siakam some advice on playing. His performances in the camp as well others propelled his stardom that ultimately caught the eye of Raptors general manager, Masai Ujiri. Siakam made his way to the United States in an effort to play college basketball and build enough of a rapport for him to comfortably declare for the draft. That's exactly what the Cameroonian international did, playing 34 games in college and averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds to go with 2 blocks and shooting over 50% from the field.
Upon his arrival in Toronto, “P-Skills” was a huge project for the Raptors. They were so excited to have been able to draft him, they started him for the first 30 games of the season. He did not shy away from the pressure as well. Recognizing the potential his team sees in him, Siakam managed to progressively get better with each game, slowly improving his skills. After a handful of games, Pascal was assigned to the Raptors developmental team, “Raptors 905.” Some may deem this as going backwards. Why start a player for 30 games straight, build his rapport only to drop him to the d-league. Although things seemed confusing, the Raptors were confident they knew what they were doing. After all, it was Masai and his team of scouts that discovered Pascal and had it in for him enough to draft him with a pick they were debating choosing on a couple other prospects. They initiated the process, therefore they should be trusted with it in all scenarios. Upon his demotion to the development team, Siakam flourished. Leading Raptors 905 to a d-league championship and being named the Finals most valuable player. The purpose of this partial detour in plans was to increase Siakam’s confidence, self-belief and leadership. The Raptors were aware they may have to blow the ship up (Derozan & Lowry), however with the insurance of having Siakam early, you’re able to learn from the mistakes in development with someone like DeMar DeRozan, and correct any mistakes made along the way. The d-league experience gave Siakam a winning mentality as well as a minimal outlook on the pressure it takes to be the star of a winning team. Taking those last-second shots or having to lock down the opposition’s main player to win a game is a difficult task to get used to, but that’s exactly what the Raptors intended to do with Siakam. When instilling these traits in a young skillful prospect early, they’re able to develop hard earned attributes like second nature.
Pascal's development so far was definitely deemed successful going into the summer. In the 17-18 season, Pascal played 81 games and averaged 7 points and 4 rebounds on 50% shooting. However still after his sophomore campaign, the fans and the NBA community weren’t aware of the true potential and ability of this young star. The summer of 2018 will historically be remembered for so many reasons but for the Raptors, its the beginning of a brand new journey. When the raptors decided to trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, many were optimistic Kawhi would want to play at all, some said he would sit the entire season. Granted all of that has proved to be nonsense, nobody was talking about the return of Pascal Siakam and how his trajectory will be impacted in a new system. Siakam used the Kawhi trade as the motivation and in that summer worked incredibly hard on his game to develop all parts of his arsenal. Pascal entered the 2018-2019 NBA season as a low-talked about, relatively unimportant back-up dancer to the Kawhi show in Toronto. He was going to be just another name in the list of guys placed on the roster. Everything the young Cameroonian has done since opening night has contradicted that impression, however. He has come out and performed well beyond anybody’s belief. He has made statistically and literally one of the largest improvements between seasons I have ever witnessed. With a season average of 17 points per game, to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists, the Cameroon international made a massive leap in his development earning a title as one of the best all-around players in the game. The hype and success weren’t enough to earn him an All-Star nod, there is no question that with Kawhi repeatedly being sidelined this season due to “load management” and Lowry starting hot and cooling off progressively ever since Pascal has undoubtedly been our most important player. Siakam has managed to go from being at the end of the bench, transitioning between the d-league and the NBA to literally the most valuable player on one of the best teams in the entire league. A lot of you are ready to tweet me, calling me an uneducated swine but hear me out. I'm not in the business of saying controversial things to incite hate. I like to think I have valid opinions and I believe in them 100%. The reason I say Siakam is the most important Raptor right now (including Kawhi Leonard), is because of two main things, his athleticism and his incredibly unique ability to grow dramatically year after year.
You have to consider Siakam picked up a basketball for the first time at 15. Before that age, he was completely oblivious to the sport. The fact he’s been able to show this growth through his hard work and dedication, turning him into a top player for his team already, is fantastic considering his very short time playing the sport. However, his growth is not everything. His athleticism is the main ingredient in his genius. That insane god-given ability allows Pascal to not only learn quickly but through his confidence, have the ability to do anything offensively and defensively. His freakish length and weird quickness for a long player is what makes him incredibly difficult to stop. His 3-point game, as well as his isolation game, are equally deadly forcing defenders to “pick their poison.” His dribbles, offensive moves around the rim, 3 point shooting and great offensive positioning are all reasons why he’s been essentially the most important player this season for the team. His abilities do not stop there. On top of developing into an offensive force, he has proven to be even better defensively. His quick feet allow him to keep up with defenders in the perimeter and his long and strong frame allows him to defend those in the paint as well. His quick hands allow him to reach for loose balls and recover rebounds with ease. In his 3rd official season in the NBA and his first as a real star, Siakam has already propelled himself to heights some thought he would never attain. He’s the most valuable because he’s the most all-around player on both ends of the court. His energy and aggression on defence lead to his slick and confident finesse game on offence. The scary thing about all of this perhaps is, he’s not even close to reaching his final form yet. For this, he’s our most valued asset as well as our best all-around player. Kawhi is the superstar, he is the face and strength of the team. Lowry brings experience and culture. The bench mob bring the energy and the grit. Siakam however, brings it ALL. He is the true heart and desire of the Toronto Raptors. Every night he plays, we know he’s going to bring 100%. There is no assumption when suspecting whether he will be bringing his all, it is guaranteed. Pascal has effectively become a young Kevin Garnett. An energetic surging star that is so dynamic and so phenomenal at his craft, its almost even better than a young K.G dare I say. His length and quickness mixed with a killer 3-point shot makes him perfect for the modern game. Pascal's development has given me personally more comfort knowing that Kawhi may leave. Of course, like everyone else, I am praying Leonard decides to stay with us. However, the potential reality of his departure is not all bad. It could be the beginning of the end for the Toronto Raptors and restart their cycle in the lottery for the next decade, or it could propel Siakam to an even bigger and better level.
Ultimately we must wait and see what the legend of Pascal will unveil. His time has so far been short, but boy what a rollercoaster. If his development continues to rise and his hunger maintains, Siakam will go down as one of the greatest Raptor players of all time, if not the greatest. For now, he can settle as the most important Raptor in the team right now, that's right, more than Kawhi.