The Toronto Raptors cruised to a dominating 122-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Monday night. This would mark the Raptors’ 3rd straight victory, improving to 11-6 on the season and #2 in the Eastern Conference. Rookie Pascal Siakam was one of 6 Raptor players to score in double figures, scoring a NBA career high 11 points on 4/6 shooting. Siakam has now scored in double figures 3 times since coming up to the NBA level. He is giving Dwane Casey the exact energy needed in the starting line-up.
Let’s get to know the Raptor rookie a little. Pascal Siakam was born in Douala, Cameroon and grew to love the sport of basketball at a young age. While participating at a Basketball Without Borders camp, he was discovered and mentored by current Clipper Luc Mbah a Moute. At the age of 16, Siakam moved to Lewisville, Texas and spent one year at God’s Academy High School. He was then recruited to New Mexico State University but did not play in his first year due to an injury. Siakam became the 4th of 4 brothers in his family to play NCAA Basketball. During his freshman season, he averaged 12.8 points & 7.7 rebounds and was named the WAC Freshman of the Year. The following year, he averaged an impressive 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks en route to being named the unanimous WAC Player of the Year. Coming off a stellar NCAA season, Siakam then declared for the NBA draft where he was selected 27th overall in the 1st round by the Toronto Raptors.
Siakam and Mbah A Moute got to go head to head last week when the Raptors visited Los Angeles to take on the Clippers. Although Siakam played limited minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, it was dreams come true for the 2 Cameroonian players. There is no doubt that Siakam would not be where he is today without the guidance of other African players, particularly Mbah a Moute, who made it to the NBA. “I don’t like to pinpoint an exact moment, but by that period of time, going to Basketball Without Borders, seeing guys like Luc Mbah a Moute, Luol Deng, Serge Ibaka – guys like that gave me the kind of thought that it’s possible.” Mbah a Moute also described the experience of finally playing against Siakam at the NBA level very cool, stating “It’s one thing to kind of just make it to the NBA as a player, but it’s another thing to have been involved in another player making it to the NBA. It’s being a part of somebody’s dream coming true.”
Getting drafted to a playoff contending team had many fans assuming Siakam would spend majority of his rookie season in the D-League with the Raptors 905. The Raptors had just acquired veteran forward Jared Sullinger with Jonas Valancuinas and Patrick Patterson still key players in the rotation. Lucas Nogeira and fellow rookie (9th overall) Jakob Poeltl were expected to compete for minutes at the back-up Center position. After getting some valuable experience through both the NBA Summer League and pre-season, Siakam showed he was ready to contribute to an already established squad. Prior to the regular season tip-off, it was announced that Jared Sullinger would miss approximately 2-3 months with a foot injury. Head Coach Dwane Casey then announced that Pascal Siakam would be the opening night starting Power Forward, electing to keep Patrick Patterson as a spark plug off the bench. He became the first Raptor rookie since Jonas Valancuinas to start a season opener, when he notched 4 points and 9 rebounds against the visiting Detroit Pistons. Since then, Pascal has seen a steady increase in his minutes per game and climbed the Top 10 Rookie Ladder just last week.
Jared Sullinger is likely to assume the starting position when he returns from injury. He was the key signing this off-season and the Raptors definitely need an offensive boost at the 4 spot. However, Siakam has embraced the opportunity and he is the exact energetic player the Raptors need in a line-up with plenty of players capable of scoring. With the loss of Bismack Biyombo this past free agency, the Raptors needed that interior presence to block shots and hustle for every loose ball. Siakam has also been working on his short range jumper and ability to finish strong around the rim. This is all part of an ongoing growing process for the young 22 year old. It is expected that Casey will sometimes elect to limit Siakam’s minutes and finish with the veterans down the stretch, which is what he has done with Patrick Patterson so far. However, Siakam has taken full advantage as a starter in the Raptors line-up and the more experience he gets, the faster he will grow. He could be very vital for the long-term future plans of the Toronto Raptors.
Catch Siakam and the Raptors in action tonight, when the host the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, live at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.