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Toronto Raptors

Pascal Siakam: Toronto Raptors forward deserves plenty of praise for recent stretch of impressive play

It's time to make sure Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is given the credit he is owed for his recent play.

To quote Trae Young, the apology needs to be as loud as the disrespect was.

MORE: How Raptors' playoff position is shaping up early on

With accolades come expectations, so it makes sense that after being named the league's Most Improved Player, signing a maximum contract extension and earning All-Star and All-NBA honours, a certain level of excellence was expected from the 26-year-old Siakam. And while he admittedly fell short of some of those expectations during the Raptors' time at Disney and during the beginning of the 2020-21 season, many unfairly decided to act as though Siakam had somehow caught lightning in a bottle and wasn't actually the calibre of player that deserved the accolades he had racked up.

That's the disrespect.

In reality, Siakam just didn't look like himself as he struggled. I'd go as far as to say that he wasn't himself during those times, especially considering his resurgence during the Raptors' most recent stretch of games.

As of late, Siakam has been nothing short of amazing, playing at a level that's arguably his best to date.

After crossing the 30-point threshold just once in his first 15 games this season, Siakam has now scored 30 or more points in four of Toronto's last seven, a span in which he's averaged 25.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists, helping the Raptors post a 5-2 record to inch closer to the .500 mark after a 2-8 start to the season.

MORE: Siakam, Powell, VanVleet lead Raps past Grizzlies

An argument can be made that during this most recent span, you can find just as much encouragement from the growth Siakam has displayed as you can from the areas that he has room to improve in.

Allow me to explain…

With the Raptors 25 games into a 72-game season, Siakam is averaging 20.5 points, to go along with career-highs of 7.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists through 22 games. The career-high figures are both answers to major needs.

It's easy - and probably lazy - to say that Siakam has grown as a playmaker simply because he's averaging a higher number of assists than he's ever averaged before when in reality, there's more to growth than an increase in numbers.

Take this play in Toronto's win over the Memphis Grizzlies for example, where Siakam gets downhill off of a ball screen from Aron Baynes but can't get to his desired spot because of the aggressive pick-and-roll defence played by both Grayson Allen and Xavier Tillman. Poised and controlled, Siakam pivots, identifies that Jonas Valanciunas' weakside help position has left Stanley Johnson wide-open in the corner and whips a pretty impressive cross-court pass that results in three points.

The ability to make plays like these will make teams think twice about how aggressively they guard Siakam out of ball screens, which will either help his ability to get into the lane where he thrives, make things easier for the rolling big man, or result in a 3-pointer, especially if there's a shooter like Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell or Kyle Lowry in the weakside corner.

An easier time getting into the lane means big things for Siakam because, as we know, the painted area is where he makes his living. It's no coincidence that during this most recent six-game stretch, 61.0% of his scoring has come in the paint with another 23.4% coming from the free throw line, which, you guessed it, is largely a byproduct of his aggression to make things happen around the basket.

The encouraging room for growth and improvement? Siakam's 3-point shooting, something that hasn't been near the level we have come to expect from him until his hot-shooting night at FedEx Forum.

After shooting 36.3% from 3 in the two seasons leading up to this one, Siakam entered Monday's meeting with Memphis having hit just 18 of his first 77 (23.4%) attempts in the 2020-21 season. His struggles had reached the point that it appeared that daring him to shoot was a part of the Grizzlies' scouting report.

Big mistake.

Siakam responded with his best shooting performance of the year, going 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, including a bank shot that may have involved a little bit of luck.

But … they say when you play with skills, good luck could happen.

Should we expect Siakam to knock down five 3s at a 62.5% clip in every game from here on out? Absolutely not. But a shooting display like the one in Memphis could get him back on track to being the 3-point threat that he was last season, where he knocked down just over two 3s per game at a 35.9% clip.

As an encore, Siakam shot 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in a win over the Wizards and has now hit eight of his last 12 3-point attempts.

Combine Siakam's penchant for dominating the paint with his continual improvement as a playmaker and his room to get back to the shooter he's been in past seasons and you've got a headache for opposing defences. As Siakam continues to play at an extremely high level, the Raptors will continue to move up in the East standings and he should get some much-deserved late consideration for the upcoming All-Star Game.

Just make sure Siakam is given the respect he's due, and that the apology is heard loud and clear.

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