With all due respect to Scottie Barnes and his rookie-of-the-year campaign, the 2021-2022 season will go down as the year Pascal Siakam returned to being Pascal Siakam.
Barnes, the No. 4 selection in the 2021 draft outplayed his draft position but even if he were only at No. 4 levels, the Raptors were always going to get a franchise-changing player from that spot.
That’s not to detract from what Barnes accomplished, which was incredible and in pretty much any other year would be that year’s biggest takeaway.
What no one could be sure of after a miserable season in Tampa and following a near no-show in the Bubble in Orlando when the 2019-10 season resumed, was the Siakam that helped bring home that championship in 2019 and then earned his first all-star berth in 2020.
Siakam was coming off shoulder surgery as well, another hurdle that to be overcome.
But Siakam put all that in his rearview mirror and never looked back, finishing with career highs in rebounds and assists and just a tenth of a point off his career scoring high from two seasons ago.
He carried this team for large portions of the schedule.
“Obviously the year before wasn’t what we wanted as a team,” Siakam said. “Not being in the post-season or the season finishing early and then having an injury. For me personally, it just felt like the bottom, just being in a place where I’ve really never been before with an injury and feeling really down.
“It was tough,” Siakam said. “It was a hard time not really knowing what the future was going to hold. Going through the rehab process, obviously first the surgery was completely hard for me to go through and understand, but after that the rehab process was super hard and something I’ve never done before. And, yeah, it was just super tough. Coming into this season obviously I had a lot of ambitions and goals and things that I wanted to accomplish. For me personally, I’m grateful. I think that’s the most important thing, just being grateful.”
Siakam should hear his named called when the All-NBA teams are announced. He earned that, but more importantly than anything he did on the court, Siakam is back to being the happy, positive person he was before his struggles that began as the team came out of the league shutdown and regrouped in the Bubble in Orlando.
WHO’S NOT BACK
Raptors management has two big decisions to make in the off-season. Both Chris Boucher and veteran Thad Young are free agents. Both were contributing factors in the team’s success this past season, Boucher from about Boxing Day on and Young since he joined the team at the trade deadline.
But they are also the only two Raptors without contracts going into next season.
Boucher would take somewhere from $8-10-million a season to come back while Young is coming off a three-year $46.3 million deal but the soon-to-be 34-year old is not expected to command that type of deal again.
Young said yesterday he sees a lot of his younger self in Boucher.
“He’s an immediate spark off the bench, like immediately,” Young said. “He brings so much energy. It really honestly reminds me of my younger self and those Sixers teams when I was coming off the bench with Louis Williams.
“I would be an immediate spark off the bench, just out there jumping around, making shots and rebounding and always around the basketball and just having a knack for it,” Young said. “He does the same exact thing.”
PRECIOUS MADE HUGE STRIDES
The year didn’t start out on a completely positive note for Precious Achiuwa but once he found his comfort level, Achiuwa was right there among the most improved players of the year along with probably Boucher.
We’d count Siakam in that group too, but his was more of a return to form.
Achiuwa’s takeoff seemed to coincide with the arrival of Young at the trade deadline. The veteran forward was in Achiuwa’s ear a lot, advice that was greatly appreciated by the second year NBA big man.
“I’ve always told him from Day 1, ‘Hey, you’re the most athletic on the team, let’s use that. Let’s use your athleticism. Let’s make sure if you’re out there playing and you’re on the defensive side of the basketball, you’re blocking shots, you’re rebounding, you’re getting your body into guys, defending multiple positions. And then when you get shots and you’re open, take ‘em. If guys close out hard on you, drive ‘em, straight line drive ‘em to the basket. So try to keep it simple.”
The advice was always positive according to Achiuwa which made Achiuwa a more aggressive and ultimately more effective player.
ANOTHER BIG OFF-SEASON
Siakam has always taken full advantage of his off-seasons by bringing his game up notches following summer-long workouts in California under the watchful eye of his personal instructor Rico Hines.
But it has been three off-seasons since Siakam actually was able to have a full off-season regiment because of COVID and last summer’s shoulder surgery.
It was not surprising to hear he has very specific plans for the upcoming summer.
“I think one thing that I’ve always wanted to do is be a complete player, play at all levels of the game — go all the way to the rim, mid-range and then be a threat the three-point line,” Siakam said. “I think that literally, for me, is what makes me a complete player, and then ball handling. I think those things in general is what I see. I think there is a lot more that I need to work on that I’ll probably touch on but for now that’s what I think, to be a threat at all three levels of the game.”
Siakam shot 52% from inside the three-point line and 34.4% from behind it this year so the obvious focus is going to be his three-point shooting.