Pascal Siakam was never a household name. In fact, prior to the 2019-20 season, it’s very likely that no one besides diehard NBA fans knew who he was outside of Toronto Raptors fans. Then, just like the Raptors did this season, the third-year player made a sudden, star-like appearance both throughout the regular season and during Toronto’s postseason run to winning the NBA title. Taken with pick No. 27 in the 2016 NBA Draft, Siakam has continued to develop and keeps improving his game, turning into the type of game-changing playmaker that the Raptors needed and could count on. It’s why the Cleveland Cavaliers must find a player like Siakam with pick No. 26 in the upcoming NBA Draft Thursday night.
Siakam was one of the best NBA Draft’s best stories in 2016. Arriving in the United States from Cameroon in November 2012, his first and only love was soccer. Then, after watching his brothers play basketball, he decided to give it a shot. It was a decision that inevitably changed his life forever.
After being selected to partake in a camp called Basketball Without Borders, former NBA and UCLA forward and Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute noticed the talented Siakam. Then, it all started coming together.
Why the backstory, you ask? It proves that Siakam was a player that, while extremely talented, still had plenty to prove. He still had plenty to learn and get better at, too. While there were still plenty of doubters even with his success at New Mexico State, there were still many parts of his game that he was not only finding out but continuing to improve and develop. Having just started playing the game in 2012, he still was pretty raw, even if he continued to showcase his talent. It meant he had a higher ceiling than most that got picked later in the first round.
During his three-year stint as an Aggie, Siakam went from a role player to his team’s top scorer after redshirting as a freshman. While his efficiency and percentages dropped, his usage jumped quite a bit, from 21.2% as a freshman to 29.1% as a sophomore. It led to more shots, which in turn turned into more opportunities. He also became a much better rebounder, increasing his average from 7.7 rebounds per game to 11.6. Overall, the forward learned what it takes to lead a team, leading his team in scoring his second season at New Mexico State. It led to him being named the WAC Player of the Year as a sophomore.
With all of his success as an Aggie, Siakam decided to make the leap to the NBA, declaring for the NBA Draft. Even though he averaged a double-double during his second and final season at New Mexico State, NBA teams still had a number of doubts. He was a player that gave it his all at all times, but given that the WAC was one of the worst conferences in college basketball, people around the NBA weren’t sure if his numbers would transition to the top level of basketball. Siakam was a player that was relentless and had the motor and athleticism to compete in the NBA, but that same relentless play also caused him to be out of control at times.
Luckily for him, the Raptors took a chance, selecting the forward with pick No. 26 in the 2016 NBA Draft. It was quite a moment for Siakam. Not only did he essentially start playing organized basketball just four years before, but he achieved his father’s dream as well. Before passing away in a car accident in October 2014, Siakam’s father dreamed that one of his sons would play in the NBA.
As it turns out, Toronto was a perfect fit for him. Just like his time at New Mexico State, Siakam started somewhat slow during his rookie season but has continued to improve his game as he shoulders more of the load.
His third season in the NBA has been his best by far. Siakam has already proved that he was a steal as the No. 26 pick in the draft. As he did during his two seasons at New Mexico State, the 25-year-old has continued to improve his numbers and game through each of his first three seasons in the NBA, culminating in averaging 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while shooting 54.9% from the field and 36.9% from beyond the arc in 31.9 minutes a night (80 games, 79 starts). His usage has gradually increased from his rookie campaign to now as well, becoming much more of a guy that Toronto can lean on: 13.1% in Year 1, 15.7% in Year 2, and 20.8% in Year 3.
The two biggest stats that stand out:
While continuing to showcase his strengths, Siakam has continued to adapt his game to the NBA—a league where shooting (and making) three-pointers are vital to a team’s success. He has done everything you could ask of him if you’re the Raptors.
That all came to fruition when the Cameroon native shined on the biggest and brightest stage in the basketball world: The NBA Finals. While he starred throughout much of the postseason, Siakam put the NBA on notice the past few weeks with the entire basketball world watching. While helping lead the Raptors to a title, he averaged 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while shooting 50.5 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from long distance in 40.1 minutes per game. In the game that mattered the most, Siakam finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block while knocking down 10-of-17 shots from the floor and 3-of-6 from three-point range in 46 minutes during the series-clinching Game 6 of the Finals.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward, not only defended a number of positions and helped shut down some of the Warriors best players on that end of the floor but offensively, he was used to bring the ball up the court at times and was able to create his own shot as well. He produced on both ends of the floor and played a huge role in Toronto’s success throughout the series.
If Kawhi Leonard decides to sign elsewhere in free agency after just one season in Toronto, Siakam will be the team’s franchise player moving forward. On a cheap four-year, $6,405, 441 contract given that he was selected late in the first round, including just a $3,487,777 team option in 2020-21, he is the type of player the Raptors can build around moving forward, whether they have Leonard or not. Keep in mind, Siakam will likely improve and develop his game this offseason, much like he has drastically done since redshirting at New Mexico State.
So, now it’s time for the Cavaliers to find their Siakam. While there are plenty of other examples of players who had a bunch of success throughout their careers in the NBA, including Manu Ginobili (No. 57 overall), Dennis Rodman (No. 27), Tony (No. 28), and Draymond Green (No. 35), among others, Siakiam is the most recent steal in the draft. Add in the fact that he was selected No. 27 and the Cavs have the No. 26 pick in the NBA Draft Thursday night, and well, that makes it that much easier to want Cleveland to find the next Siakam, recency bias aside.
If they do, Cavs fans likely won’t find out for a few years, just like Toronto had to wait as well. Now I’m not saying that the Cavs’ version of Siakam will help lead them to a championship in three years, but getting a player of his caliber will help with the rebuilding process. A guy who can do it all on both ends of the floor is huge for any team, but especially one that was dead last in defense and needs more playmakers offensively.
Still with plenty of raw talent after just two years at New Mexico State, Siakam had a high ceiling when he entered the NBA Draft. At No. 26, getting a player that has a fairly high ceiling is important. With the No. 5 pick it may be best to play it safe, but late in the first round, it’s better to take a player that can turn into a fairly good role player and even a potential All-Star or be horrible and be out of the league in a few years rather than one that is the safe pick.
With head coach John Beilein in the fold, the former Michigan head coach has been known to develop players into stars, at least at the college level. If he can transition that trait to the NBA level, it will be game-changing for the Cavaliers. It will especially help with players that they select in the upcoming drafts as well. It will take time, but if players can learn, develop, and consistently improve their game under Beilein’s lead, it will only mean good things for the wine and gold moving forward.
Siakam has already proven to the rest of the NBA that Toronto found a star late in the first round. The Cavaliers must follow suit and find the next Pascal Siakam in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.