Detroit — Whenever Raptors forward Pascal Siakam’s rise to stardom becomes a topic, the immediate connection is made to Pistons coach Dwane Casey and the time he spent helping develop Siakam through the G-League.
Siakam, 25, was the 27th pick by the Raptors in the 2016 draft and has gone from a role player early in his career to a fringe superstar and likely All-Star this season. The 6-foot-9 forward has honed his game and has become a solid 3-point shooter; after hitting a career-best 37 percent beyond the arc last season, he’s picked it up a notch to 38 percent this year.
After growing up in Cameroon, Siakam wasn’t seen as an elite basketball prospect. But Casey notes that it’s Siakam’s work ethic that has gotten him where he is.
“I didn’t see that he would be a superstar and he is a superstar in our league right now,” Casey said before Wednesday’s game against the Raptors. “He started 38 games in his first year and he was for us like (Pistons guard) Bruce Brown. He was that rabbit that comes out and guards the best player. Shooting was his last resort; it was his last offensive option.”
Siakam has improved from 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds as a rookie to 25 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his fourth season. Siakam has more than doubled his volume of 3-pointers, to 6.2 per game this year, to go along with 14.3 2-point field goals per game.
After Kawhi Leonard’s departure following Toronto's championship last season, Siakam has taken the mantle as the torchbearer and leader, along with Kyle Lowry. It’s a lesson to young players about being self-made and self-motivated to reaching greatness.
“For those kids out there that want to see how good you can be, go watch him in the summertime. He is not worried about load management; the kid worked three times a day,” Casey said. “He and Rico (Hines) are out there in Los Angeles and they did a great job of developing his offensive game — and it’s on him. He did that all himself to develop his individual game, and his mom and dad did a great job with the DNA with the elite motor he has.
“I saw that he was going to be a good starter in our league and the trade for Serge (Ibaka) took place, but the rest of it, he did on his own.”
Big pieces back
The Pistons got some good news on the injury front, as both Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin returned. Drummond missed the last two games because of inflammation in his left eye and Griffin because of knee soreness.
Both started on Thursday night and looked to benefit from a few days off. Casey said there will be some management of Griffin’s playing time and he may have more games off to manage the soreness in his knee. Casey cautioned, though, that it’s not much different than what they’ve done all season in trying to ensure that Griffin remains healthy and active for as many games as possible.
Clearly, the Pistons are a different team with their two biggest pieces in the lineup.
“Obviously with Blake, the ball goes through him a lot, in all ways — bringing it up the floor and taking it from there. In post-ups, he’ll run screen-and-rolls and they’ll throw it to him on the post,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s kind of their primary guy and that changes a lot of your coverages and schemes and you’ve got to decide matchups.”
The Raptors looked to be a team that could take a step back after losing Leonard to the Clippers.
Not so much.
They’re off to an 18-8 start and they’re right in the thick of things in the East.
“They have excellent hands, they are quick and they can switch one through five when Serge is at center,” Casey said. “They played with their two bigs (Ibaka and Marc Gasol) recently, but they do a great job of really handling the basketball, controlling the ball and quick rotations.”