Key to Raptors’ Siakam taking next step lies in elevating teammates

TORONTO – Coming into the 2019-20 NBA season the biggest storyline going for the Toronto Raptors was the question of how Pascal Siakam would handle his new role as the team’s No. 1 offensive option?

After averaging 23.6 point points and 7.5 rebounds per game and shooting 35.9 per cent from three-point range, and being a named an all-star for the first time in his career – as a starter – it would seem the answer to that question above would unequivocally be “Yes.”

Yet, the question still lingers in the air and that’s because while Siakam has undoubtedly been a force scoring the ball, in order to take that next step he still has a little ways to go to find ways to help elevate the teammates around him.

More specifically, Siakam needs to become a better decision-maker and playmaker with the ball in his hands.

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The 26-year-old has struggled at times this season with turnovers and has gotten into foul trouble usually when teams have sent double teams his way. The mistakes he’s made are only natural, however, as this is the first time in his NBA career – maybe his entire basketball-playing life – he’s seen this level of attention from opponents trying to stop him.

As a result, Siakam has experienced growing pains this season in regards to recognizing when he should be looking to pass or when he should force the issue himself.

With the season’s resumption just around the corner, the narrative surrounding Siakam as a No. 1 option still remains with these playmaking questions now front and centre. Siakam is aware of all of this and has been diligently working to improve in these areas.

“Understanding that you’re going to get attention, and know how to be aggressive, and know how to defer,” Siakam said in a conference call Sunday. “It’s something that I’m learning and continuing to get better at. It’s an exciting time, just working every day, trying to improve and seeing things that defences are going to throw at me and adjust based on that.”

Because of the versatile nature of his game, Siakam said he tries to pick up helpful tips from each position on the floor, not just the three or four spots that he traditionally plays.

The work ethic is never in doubt for him, so even if the results may not immediately come, there’s no need to worry about him putting in the time to better himself.

“He’s been unbelievable for us all season and I think he’s continued to grow,” Raptors guard Matt Thomas said of Siakam. “I see him every single day always working on his craft. Whether that be his ball-handling, his playmaking ability, obviously he can score the basketball at all three levels –getting to the rim, mid-range, getting fouled and shooting the ball from three extremely well this year, too.”

For the time being, however, Siakam and the rest of his Raptors are still working towards getting back into proper shape, gradually working towards being in top condition for when the games enter critical territory.

“…Right now I’m not worried about being 100 per cent or feeling like I’m all the way there,” Siakam said. “I think it’s gonna be a process. I think the goal for us as a team, not just me, is to just peak at the right time. That’s what I’m focused on and continue to work gradually toward being the best, or playing my best basketball, when it matters the most.”

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Because it hadn’t been seen before it’s understandable that every question Siakam’s answered in regards to his legitimacy as a No. 1 guy has only been met with more questions. When the season resumes expect more of the same, but at least for now, know that Siakam is working towards shoring up his weaknesses and, more importantly, the coaching staff has faith he’ll be able to do so.

“I think he’s done outstanding,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Siakam as the team’s go-to guy. “I think that’s a big kind of mantle to carry in this league, to be a guy that’s, you know, go out there and get between 23 and 28 points every night or whatever as a lead scorer. I think he’s handled it great.

“The best part about it from my standpoint is there’s still a lot of ceiling there, I think. So that’s encouraging. I think his shooting will improve, I think his decision-making will improve, I think he’s just getting the ball in the basket period.”

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