As the new school year approaches, we're rewinding things with Back to School Week! This week, we'll take a look back at the amateur years of some of the biggest stars to suit up for the Raptors or hail from Canada.
"I'm a little surprised that he went in the first round. I had him pegged as a second-rounder."
That's what ESPN's Jay Bilas had to say about Pascal Siakam when he was selected with the 27th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Bilas was far from the only one to have that opinion of the Cameroonian forward, too.
Bleacher Report had Siakam at 33 (the third pick in the second round) in their mock draft heading into the night. NBADraft.net had him slotted slightly lower at 38, while CBS Sports had him almost going undrafted at 54 - a few spots ahead of, ironically, his current Toronto Raptors teammate Fred VanVleet, who did go undrafted in 2016.
The consensus was that despite having the tools to be an impact player in the NBA, Siakam was still very much a work in progress on both ends of the court, which scared people off by him being one of the oldest prospects in his class. Siakam redshirted what would have been his freshman season due to an ankle injury and entered the 2016 NBA Draft following two seasons at New Mexico State, at age 22.
Here's what one scout had to say about Siakam to Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore, for example:
"On one hand, he's a little older. There are certain things physically where he's closer to reaching his potential. On the other hand, he hasn't been playing very long so his experience and skill development leads to some upside. You just try to weigh those things together and look at the whole picture."
An encouraging sign was that Siakam improved tremendously during his short time at New Mexico State. He went from averaging 12.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game as a freshman to 20.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a sophomore. His shooting efficiency declined slightly, but he started to shoot 3-pointers and got to the free throw line with much greater frequency.
The combination helped him become the WAC's Player of the Year, as well as an AP Honorable Mention All-American.
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Siakam has since developed into one of the best young players in the NBA, although he's taken his own route to get there. It started in the D-League, where he helped the Raptors 905 win a championship as a rookie. In averaging 23.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in the series, Siakam was named Finals MVP.
Siakam was then a part of Toronto's "Bench Mob" as a sophomore in 2017-18, setting up his breakout season in 2018-19, in which he was named the league's Most Improved Player and helped the Raptors win their first-ever title.
Based on what we know now, there's no way Siakam would fall outside of the lottery if we were to redo the 2016 NBA Draft. Ben Simmons would likely still go No. 1, but there's a case to be made for Siakam being the second-best player in the class. It's between him and the likes of Jamal Murray, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield and Jaylen Brown.
Considering how important he now is to the franchise, both in the short-term and long-term, Siakam is well on his way to being one of the biggest steals in recent NBA Draft history.
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