Pascal Siakam embraces chance to be Raptors’ top dog this season


TOKYO — Once Kawhi Leonard left town it became obvious that Pascal Siakam would need to make another leap in order for the Raptors to remain a force in the Eastern Conference.

The good news for Toronto, then, is that Siakam is eager to accept that challenge. Having gone from averaging 4.2 points per game as a rookie, to 7.3 and then to 16.9 in his NBA Most Improved Player award-winning season, Siakam is no stranger to returning from the off-season looking like a completely different player.

But now he’s Toronto’s top scoring option and there will be more pressure to burden Siakam and a lot more responsibility.

“I’m probably going to have the ball more in my hands and more of a leading role I would say,” Siakam told us during the Raptors trip to Japan.

“Yeah, it’s exciting just to know there’s more opportunities out there. And coaches are probably expecting more from me. More minutes, more leadership,” Siakam said.

“I think a situation has been created for him to expand his role a little bit,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Maybe become our primary option on offence. Again, his shooting continues to improve. It’s something that really wasn’t part of his game a couple of years ago. It’s adequate now. He’s going to need to step in and take those (shots),” Nurse said.

Siakam said he spent the summer working on his mid-range shooting, ball-handling, “and trying to work on that in-between game.” He also wants to slow down a bit to cut down on his turnovers and rushed shots.

“He’s very versatile bringing the ball up the floor. We’ll give him a lot of freedom, a lot of opportunities to continue to expand his game, but he’ll be somebody that has a great season I think,” Nurse said.

“He can expand it and maybe add five, six points a game to his scoring average.”

Siakam averaged 19.1 points a game in 21 games without Leonard last year and shot 55% from the field, matching his season numbers on higher usage. Toronto went 16-5 in those games and when Leonard had a rare off-night in the post-season there were times when Siakam stepped up to fill the gap.

Siakam cautioned this week, though, that it isn’t just Leonard who has left. Danny Green’s steady production will also have to be replaced, and that will happen by committee.

“Obviously there are things to adjust to. (Leonard) was a big part of what we were doing and Danny, too, I think people forget about Danny all the time,” Siakam said.

“We have to step up as a team and there’s more opportunities for everyone, so, everyone is excited about that.”

Siakam is right on that. From talking to various Raptors in Japan it became obvious that they are relishing the chance to show a little bit more. Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet, in particular, and Nurse also added that Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol — both No. 1 or No. 2 options for large portions of their careers — will likely be asked to carry far more of the offensive load as scorers than they did during the championship season.

But it all starts with Siakam.

A year ago, the entire basketball world, save Siakam himself, expected the pride of Cameroon to come off the bench. Instead, he gave the team no choice but to start him and give him a big role. If all goes well, the storybook season that followed will have been just a prelude to Siakam showing what he is really capable of.


Even though the Houston Rockets have a long history of being a popular team in Asia (pre-Daryl Morey tweet of course), there were tons of Raptors fans in Tokyo. A huge portion of the crowd at both exhibition games were wearing Raptors gear. Much of it was championship edition merchandise, but we even saw the odd Chris Bosh old-school jersey and a lot of Vince Carter dinosaur jerseys. Bizarrely, someone even showed up in a Carter New Jersey Nets jersey.

But it was the championship gear that was everywhere.

As Pascal Siakam said when asked how life has changed for everyone on the team post-championship, there’s definitely a difference.

“It’s been interesting. People are looking at me more and the team,” Siakam said. “It’s a pretty good time to be a Raptor in general, or a Raptors fan, and I’m just happy I’m a part of that.