Once you have a Most Improved Player award to your name, it's no longer a shock or a surprise when you come up big.
You've officially arrived.
For Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, the question now is how he'll follow up a breakout 2018-19 season, especially after signing a four-year max extension.
With the departure of Kawhi Leonard via free agency, all eyes now shift to Siakam to become the guy for the Raptors as they defend their first NBA title.
As he embarks on his first season as a full-time No. 1 option in the NBA, let's explore the best and worst case for the 25-year-old in his fourth season in the league.
Simply put, the best-case scenario for Siakam this season is making the leap.
But what exactly does that mean?
After averaging a career-high 16.9 points per game last season, Siakam must increase his production to become a player that can get to around 20 points on a nightly basis. In the 2018-19 regular season, he scored at least 20 points in 26 of the 80 games he appeared in, including a career-high 44 points in a win over the Wizards.
While scoring 20 points every game might be a lofty expectation, it's more than realistic to expect Siakam to become a player that meets that threshold in 2019-20.
Even though he made a big leap in the 2018-19 season, there is plenty of room for growth in Siakam's game, which is an encouraging aspect of his long-term potential.
SUMMER WORKOUT PLANS: Siakam's mid-range | Siakam's passing | Siakam as a post scorer
At media day, Siakam told reporters that this offseason, he worked to improve by "Looking back at last season and looking at things that I didn't do so well. Just working on every facet of my game, trying to be a complete player. For me, I think ball handling … being able to be a playmaker. Obviously, shooting and mid-range."
As outlined in the above Summer Workout Plan, adding a reliable mid-range jumper to his game would open up his game even more, allowing him to become a more multi-dimensional scorer.
With an understanding of how he can improve and a commitment to doing so, the best case for Siakam this season would be a display of his hard work paying off, allowing him to seamlessly grow into taking the next step from being the Most Improved Player.
As an opportunistic scorer, Siakam will continue to play well off of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet with sharp cuts and his ability to thrive in transition. In creating more for himself in different settings, he'll become that 20.0-plus points per game scorer, which should propel him into becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career.
With four of the last five Most Improved Players earning All-Star selections, there's an established precedent of what's to come after breaking out. And for the Raptors, Siakam earning the nod would soften the blow of losing Kawhi in knowing that the future of the franchise is in the hands of a 25-year-old first-time All-Star.
Clearly, it's no secret that Siakam is expected to be the No. 1 option for the Raptors this season. Most everyone knows this, including opposing teams.
Can he shoulder that load given the attention he'll receive?
Given the circumstances surrounding last season, Siakam was typically not the focal point of the opposing team's defences, even though he often faced their best defenders. This season, with the offence revolving around him, teams will now key in on Siakam with the chief goal of making things more difficult for him.
The worst-case scenario for Siakam this upcoming season would be the result of an inability to adjust to the increased attention on him. In the 2019 postseason, he experienced struggles when teams adjusted to limit him, namely on two specific occasions:
- Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 3 -- 9 points (2-10 FG, 0-4 3FG), 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists
- NBA Finals Game 2 -- 12 points (5-18 FG, 0-3 3FG), 8 rebounds, 5 assists
If opposing defences find a way to neutralize Siakam by focusing on his perceived weaknesses, it will not only be a difficult season for him on a personal level, the Raptors will be limited as a whole because of how much they will rely on his contributions.
With an increased usage in 2019-20, it's hard to believe that Siakam will regress, at least from a pure production standpoint. He's shown the ability to find his spots despite his limitations, but a failure to improve upon his weaknesses would suggest that his numbers would stagnate while his efficiency takes a significant dip.
Should he make the necessary additions to his game, this shouldn't be a problem at all, but if the load of being the main option is too much to carry, things could become pretty difficult for the rising star pretty fast.
Ultimately, only time will tell.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.