For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors have swept a four-game Western Conference road trip.
On Wednesday they took care of some early turnovers to dethrone the Sacramento Kings. It was another complete team effort that was ignited by the franchise player Kawhi Leonard, who drained dagger jump shots every time the Kings got close.
Sunday night in Los Angeles was a different story. The Raptors, minus the aforementioned Leonard, rolled into Staples Center to face their arch nemesis LeBron James. James has owned the Raptors over his career, eliminating them from the playoffs the past three years.
This Raptors team is different from the flawed teams of the past that would predictably bow down to heavyweights of the NBA. They play with more resilience, cohesiveness, and hustle due in large part to the development of third-year power forward Pascal Siakam.
This dunk on LeBron made all the highlight shows, but it only tells part of the story for Siakam this season:
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Siakam’s fearlessness and relentless motor will be something to watch this season as the Raptors gear up for a long playoff run.
A role player has to emerge to take over pockets of the game when the superstar is being handled. Andre Iguodala won the Finals MVP in 2015 when the Warriors needed other players to step in for a hobbled Steph Curry. Siakam has already been named a Finals MVP, albeit for a Raptors 905 group that won the G-League title in 2016.
Siakam is winner. He does what the Raptors need him to do on every defensive and offensive possession. Recently he has become a scorer, dropping 21 against the Kings, 16 on the Jazz and Lakers.
Graduating from the Bench Mob, Siakum has started 11 of 12 games this season, averaaging 12.5 points per game to go with seven rebounds.
Standing at 6-foot-9, the 24-year-old is too fast to be guarded by the average NBA big man.
Taking the Raptors to the next level
Siakam’s play this season has vaulted the Raptors to the top of Eastern Conference with an 11-1 record. The difference between this year and last is the way Toronto is beating teams with a mixture of better floor spacing and five-man units that have no weaknesses defensively.
Their current point differential is hovering at +9.5. They can put teams away with suffocating defence spearheaded by Siakam’s versatility to switch onto any player on the floor.
At the end of the first half in Sacramento, Siakam switched onto backup point guard Frank Mason. Mason danced but could not shake Siakam’s length, eventually tossing up an air ball.
This has become commonplace.
His teammates are directly benefitting from his versatility, proven by his +25 rating from Sunday in Los Angeles.
Siakam’s tenacity and motor comes from his unique road to pros. At the age of 16, Siakam finally began to play basketball with his brothers. A native of Cameroon, Siakam attended Basketball Without Boarders, put on by current President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri, parlaying that experience into shot in the dark scholarship at New Mexico State University.
He won the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in his sophomore season and was drafted 27th overall by the Raptors.
The Raptors, after a perfect west coast road trip, have three straight at home, beginning on Saturday. Whether Leonard is playing or not, the Raptors can rely on Pascal Siakam’s ability to play every play like its his last.