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After winning the NBA title in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors were on top of the world. Then Kawhi Leonard rained on championship parade by heading home to join the Los Angeles Clippers. In his absence, however, a new star stepped up for the Raptors in the form of Pascal Siakam.

Pascal Siakam has developed into an NBA star with the Toronto Raptors.
What’s the key to Pascal Siakam’s rise to stardom? | Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

While Masai Ujiri might have suspected that Siakam could develop into a franchise player, Spicy P has truly elevated his game this season. It turns out that there’s one significant change driving the forward’s success.

Pascal Siakam’s road to stardom

Growing up in Cameroon, Pascal Siakam never dreamed of NBA success. He planned on becoming a priest but had a change of heart as a teenager. He had always played basketball for fun and attended Luc Mbah a Moute’s basketball camp; that scored him an invite to a Basketball Without Borders session, where he caught Masai Ujiri’s attention.

Siakam moved to the United States, where he enrolled at New Mexico State Univesity. He spent two years with the Aggies, capturing the WAC Player of the Year, before declaring for the NBA draft. The Toronto Raptor snagged him with the 26th overall pick.

While Siakam spent parts of his rookie year with the Raptors, he spent a decent chunk of time with their G-Leauge affiliate, too. He helped the Raptors 905 win the championship, taking home the Finals MVP award in the process. He proved to be a solid bench player for the big club during the 2017-18 season and truly came into his own during the 2018-19 run to the NBA title. In addition to the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Siakam also won the Most Improved Player Award.

Siakam’s shooting touch

During the early stages of his career, Pascal Siakam was primarily an energy player. While he was always capable of chipping in a few baskets from the paint, no one was reliant on the forward’s offense.

With each passing year, however, Siakam’s scoring has increased. He’s developed from more of a conventional power forward into one of the league’s best wing players. His versatility is the key to his offensive success. If you try to guard him with a low post player, he’ll morph into a point guard and move to the perimeter; if you try a smaller, quicker defender, Siakam will drift into the post and score with ease.

While Siakam always had the athleticism to play an inside-out game, his shot is a more recent development. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe pointed out, the forward entered the league averaging only seven points per game. Last year, he started three-pointers from the top of the arc and converted them at a decent rate; this year, his shot rate and field goal percentage have increased exponentially. If Siakam is consistently able to hit that outside shot, he’ll be virtually unguardable.

Can the Raptors make another run at the title?

Despite losing Kawhi Leonard during the summer, the Toronto Raptors have only lost four of their opening 14 games. A large part of that success is due to Pascal Siakam; the forward is currently averaging 25 points per night and has played himself into the MVP conversation. He’s also been remarkably consistent, potting at least 15 points in every game this year.

While the Raptors are virtually a lock for the postseason, they’ll face an uphill battle to win another NBA championship. Their bench isn’t the deepest, and, for all the talent in their starting five, Toronto just isn’t at the level of some of the Western Conference’ top teams.

That’s not to say the franchise is in a bad place, however. Siakam recently signed a max contract, keeping him in Toronto for the foreseeable future. That deal also gives the team plenty of cap space for the summer of 2021; if Giannis Antetokounmpo or another stud moves north of the border, the Raptors will be back in the hunt for an NBA championship.