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All-Star 2020

NBA All-Star Game 2020: The Toronto Raptors' soaring expectations for Pascal Siakam

CHICAGO - Toronto Raptors' head assistant coach Adrian Griffin knows what it takes to be great. From the best seat in the house, he's witnessed it time and again from up close.

Derrick Rose's meteoric rise to become the youngest MVP in league history.

Russell Westbrook's immediate ascension to MVP status with the Oklahoma City Thunder following the departure of Kevin Durant.

Kawhi Leonard's materialization as a timeless folk hero in Canada.

So as Pascal Siakam continues to place one foot in front of the other in his incredible journey from first round project to fringe rotation player to Most Improved Player to All-Star Game starter, Griffin can offer up perspective like few others given his past experiences as one of the NBA's most respected voices.

Ahead of Friday's Rising Stars Game in which Griffin is serving as head coach of the World Team, the veteran assistant weighed in on what stands out the most with regards to his star Cameroonian forward.

"He's started to get that killer instinct that a lot of the great players possess, that mindset that he can dominate a game on both ends of the floor. He's becoming such a dynamic player."

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Though Siakam originally broke through mostly due to his defensive versatility, the fourth-year forward has become a handful on the offensive end as he's taken over for Leonard as Toronto's number one option. It's that end of the floor where Griffin's eyes widen and smile spreads wide when raving about his progress.

"How do you guard him one on one? I've seen teams back off him and he's able to hurt them from the outside. If you get up on him, he'll drive past you. He can post up. There's nothing he can't do on the offensive end. And he's started to figure that out too."

Entering the All-Star break, Siakam is averaging a team-best 23.5 points on just over 19 attempts per game. As alluded to by Griffin, Siakam's become more than capable in all areas as a scorer, something which is hammered home by the supporting evidence.

Give him space? Siakam is burying over 36% of his 3s with over three quarters of them coming above the break. That's a far cry from last season in which he made just 17 from above the break with the vast majority coming on wide open catch-and-shoot looks from the corners.

Play him up close? Siakam's 10 drives per game are in the same neighbourhood as reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo while his production as an isolation scorer is essentially the exact same as LeBron James.

Force him into the post? Two years after attempting a grand total of 11 shots the entire season on post-ups, Siakam is already at 111 so far, more than everyone else on the Raptors combined and more than the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns.


Four years ago, the idea that Siakam would someday participate in the All-Star Skills Challenge and start the All-Star Game while leading a championship contender in scoring wasn't even far-fetched, but rather completely off the radar.

"Not a highly-skilled offensive player."

That was included one scouting service's profile of Siakam heading into the 2016 draft. Also included in that same profile were apt descriptions of Siakam's incredible motor, work ethic and propensity to routinely scrap for points and outwork everyone. That same motor and work ethic is what's ultimately fueled Siakam's maturation into the player who will be on full display in Chicago.

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"He's always had a phenomenal work ethic." When asked about the biggest change he's witnessed in Siakam's preparation behind the scenes, Griffin was quick to point out that this continued leap is borne out from an appetite to outwork everyone, a trait that's nothing new. "Before and after practice, putting in time. You can always watch players… the way they perform is an indicator of what they're putting into it. Just from watching him, you can tell he's paid the price and put in the work."

As the Raptors get set for the homestretch as they look to firm up their hold on the two seed in the Eastern Conference, Siakam will only garner more attention as teams continue to game plan for Toronto's newest star. That, too, isn't lost on Toronto's top assistant who has seen it all season long.

"You could tell even early in the season how teams were guarding him, they were game planning a little harder. He's become the focal personnel that they're targeting. This is the NBA, teams are going to sit down and say "OK how do we neutralize Pascal tonight." And that's a sign of greatness…. How do players handle that?"

With fewer than 30 games left, Toronto comes out of the break 1.5 games up on the Boston Celtics with the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers all jockeying for critical positioning for an Eastern Conference bracket that could be among the most competitive in years. And while Toronto's 15-game win streak gave it a cushion, there are no guarantees. The Raptors' second-half schedule includes games against the Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, Lakers, Rockets and Nuggets, among others.

Make it through that in one piece and the target on the defending champs' backs will only be larger. And with that target comes the microscope on Siakam's ability to live up to the lofty standards set last summer.

Count Griffin among those excited to watch Siakam embrace the challenge that comes with the heightened sense of scrutiny.

"We expect him to take an even bigger jump come playoff time. Teams are going to send multiple bodies at him and he's going to have to be able to navigate it."

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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