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Last season, the Toronto Raptors made an improbable run to the NBA Championship. This year, however, things will be much tougher, in large part because of the departure of NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. But, with the forward now in Los Angeles, the Raptors have tied their future to someone else: Pascal Siakam.

The Raptors recently inked the young forward to a max-contract, keeping him in Toronto through 2024. While that may seem like a major commitment, the deal will actually set the team up for future success.

Siakam’s road to stardom

Despite his NBA success, Siakam never dreamed of success on the hardwood. He grew up in Cameroon and planned on becoming a Catholic priest; he decided against the vocation as a teenager but needed to find a different path. After attending Luc Mbah a Moute’s basketball camp, he was invited to a Basketball Without Borders camp; there, he caught the eye of Masai Ujiri.

Siakam moved to America where, after a year of ineligibility, he enrolled at New Mexico State Univesity. In two years, he had captured WAC Player of the Year honors and declared for the NBA draft; the Raptors would select him with the 26th overall pick.

Siakam’s meteoric rise continued in the G-League, where he helped the Raptors 905 with the championship; the forward also took home the Finals MVP award. He spent the full 2018 season with the Raptors, before helping them take home the NBA title in 2019.

Siakam’s development as a player

Last year, Pascal Siakam was also named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. This year, the Raptors will be betting on him to fill the void left by Kawhi Leonard.

While the forward still plays with the energy and effort that kick-started his basketball career, he’s far more than a hustle guy. He’s more than comfortable running the floor and filling lanes, but he still uses his height to good effect, pulling down nearly seven rebounds per game. Offensively, Siakam is adept at driving into the paint and finishing at the rim, but he’s also developing an outside shot. He’s the type of positionless player, who can step into any role on the floor, that every NBA team wants.

That shooting touch will become even more important this season, with opposing teams viewing Siakam as the Raptor’s main threat. During the 2019 playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks packed the paint and forced the forward to drive to the left, limiting his effectiveness. If Siakam is able to continue developing his shooting touch, he’ll force opposing defenses to come out of their shell.

Toronto’s flexibility for the future

While it’s hard to look past this upcoming NBA season, Siakam’s extension also sets the Raptors up for future success. While it limits the team’s flexibility for next summer, the deal keeps the larger picture intact.

With Siakam locked up long term, Toronto’s focus will turn towards the 2021 free agency class and landing someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not only will they have the cap space, but they’ll also offer any prospective Raptors the chance to play with one of the league’s most exciting young players in Pascal Siakam.

This season might be tough for the Toronto Raptors but, with Siakam signed to a contract extension, the future is certainly bright.