Raptors’ Siakam sends message to Magic and young Africans

Raptors’ Siakam sends message to Magic and young Africans
ORLANDO, FLA.—Pascal Siakam continues to strike a blow for every late draft pick, every unheralded rookie, every star who became a star because of his own hard work and belief in himself.

But what he wants to do, what he needs to, as he emerges as a true NBA force is serve as a beacon for a generation of young African players — a generation that now sees what it wants to be.

“I’m just blessed to be here, happy to be in this position, so people from where I’m from can look at me and hopefully dream that one day they can be here,” Siakam said Saturday and he and the Raptors took a day off from their NBA playoff series with the Orlando Magic. “And at the end of the day if I do that, that’s what’s important to me. That’s the message I’m trying to send every night I’m on the floor.

The context of Siakam’s important statement and the look it provides into his character was a quick discussion about ex-Raptor and neophyte broadcaster Tracy McGrady suggesting Siakam should not win the league’s most improved player award because — thanks to McGrady’s apparent avoidance of a season worth of Raptors highlights — Siakam’s improvement only came about because of increased playing time.

“I don’t know what’s going on, what people say,” Siakam said of that idiocy. “I’m focused on this team and trying to come every night and do my best. It’s not about what people say.”

Votes have already been cast for the regular season award Siakam is almost certain to win, but he’s done even more in three playoff games to cement himself as not only the most improved player in the league but one of the best, period.

His 30-point, 11-rebound, zero-turnover, 42-minute gem in Toronto’s 98-93 victory here Friday was a true tour de force. He scored in every imaginable way, defended everyone from point guards to power forwards, and took over the game in a decisive five-minute, nine-point burst in the third quarter.

The Magic, if they want to get back into the series that Toronto leads 2-1 going into Sunday’s Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena, need to figure out how to get a handle on him — perhaps even more than Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Lowry. Orlando coach Steve Clifford hinted at throwing a more aggressive double-team at Siakam, which would run counter to just about every defensive principle the Magic hold dearly.

“He’s got to know that he’s not going to be allowed to dribble the ball five, six times before we get to him,” Clifford said Friday night. “His jump hook game, to me, is terrific.”

It is a testament to Siakam’s continued and rapid growth that teams are actively concentrating on stopping him first among Raptors. And Siakam’s coach and teammates have no doubt he’ll quickly figure it out, because he always seems to.

“I’m not sure Pascal’s seen a lot of double-teaming this year, and you’ve usually got to see that live to recognize it and how to play out of it,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “You saw it with Kawhi (Leonard) early in the year, about the fifth game of the year, everybody started doubling the heck out of Kawhi and it was like ‘whoa.’ It took him a couple games to get used to it. We’ll have to be ready. We don’t have a couple of games to get used to it.”
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