The Toronto Raptors may be in the midst of a rebuilding process, but the thrills surrounding their NBA Finals run in 2019 will live on forever. At the heart of their dream season is Pascal Siakam, whose breakout fueled the Raptors from the opening tip-off of the season to the final buzzer in Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors.
Siakam is one of the more underrated stars in the NBA. So much so, even Toronto barely paid him any mind during the forward’s pre-draft workout in 2016.
Pascal Siakam wasn’t considered a can’t-miss prospect
Siakam’s road to becoming an NBA All-Star is certainly one less traveled.
The 6-foot-9 forward grew up in Cameroon with plans to become a priest before coming to America at 18 to pursue basketball. He was mentored by fellow Cameroonian Luc Mbah a Moute, a 12-year veteran who discovered Siakam at his local basketball camp. With Mbah a Moute’s help, the athletic but raw prospect worked on his game at God’s Academy in Lewisville, Texas.
Siakam overcame minimal college interest to earn a scholarship at New Mexico State in 2013. After a redshirt season, the young man from Cameroon delivered more than anyone could have anticipated. Siakam finished his freshman season with 12.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The following year, he averaged 20.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks en route to being the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
With nothing more to prove at the college level, Siakam left the Aggies before his junior year and declared for the NBA Draft. But even after two highly-productive seasons in Las Cruces, many projections still had him as a late first or early second-round pick.
Siakam was upset with the Toronto Raptors for disrespecting him at his pre-draft workout
Even though he wasn’t considered one of the top prospects in his class, Siakam had his fair share of potential suitors. The 27-year-old told JJ Redick on The Old Man and the Three he worked out for around 20 different teams during the draft process. One of those teams, as you can figure out, was the Raptors.
The sixth-year veteran told Redick how he was set to share his Raptors workout with fellow prospects Jakob Poeltl and Skal Labissiere. But when he arrived at the facility, the WAC Player of the Year didn’t get the opportunity he thought he signed up for.
“I go on the court and I don’t see Jakob, don’t see Skal, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?'” Siakam explained. “And they’re like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to have one-on-one workouts over there.’ I don’t even remember who was with me in my workout. … It wasn’t even the B-squad. [It was] probably the Z-squad.”
Feeling slighted by Toronto holding Poetl and Labissiere in higher regard, Siakam took out his frustration on the court.
“So at that point I’m just seeing red. I’m like, ‘Yo, this is disrespectful. I don’t care.’ So in my workout, I’m going crazy. Blocking shots, running, scoring, defending, doing everything. And after the workout I call my agent [to say], “Yo, I’m mad, I’m sick. But I just killed this workout.’ … And I think [the Raptors] felt that way too.”Pascal Siakam
Siakam’s impassioned audition clearly caught Toronto’s eye. The Raptors selected the future All-Star 27th overall, one spot ahead of Labissiere.
The Toronto Raptors don’t regret drafting Siakam
Getting a starter late in the first round is enough reason to celebrate in the NBA. But landing an All-Star and foundational piece on a championship team is cause for pure jubilation.
Toronto drafted Siakam knowing patience would be a virtue. Through his first two seasons, Spicy P averaged 4.2 and 7.3 points per game. But in the 2018-19 season, the Cameroonian more than doubled his previous career-high with 16.9 points per game. He upped his game in the playoffs, averaging 19.0 points and helping the Raptors secure their first championship in franchise history. Along with a ring, Siakam also won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
The promising forward then became a full-fledged All-Star in 2019-20. Siakam finished the COVID-shortened season averaging a career-high 22.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. He also earned a spot on the All-NBA Second Team.
Even though Toronto is no longer a threat to win a title, the 27-year-old Siakam has cemented his place as one of the best power forwards in basketball. And he’s paid as such, currently playing on the second year of his four-year, $137 million extension.
Just don’t ever put him with the B-group again.