By Arnie Leshin
Learning the game of basketball in such a short time is what has Pascal Siakam living like a champion.
In being selected Monday by the NationalBasketball Association as its Most Improved Payer at its annual awards presentation, it comes after the Cameroon native played two years on the court for New Mexico State, and was drafted as the first-round 26th pick by the Toronto Raptors.
That was 2017, a starter for the Aggies both season, with Toronto he was named a starter only twice. Last year, it increased to eight, and this season to 79 of 80 games, winding up with sparking the Raptors to their first NBA championship, dethroning the Golden State Warriors in six games.
“I’m honored by this award,” said the 6-foot-9, 25-year-old Siakam. “Before I came to the states, I sometimes shot around some times with friends, having fun but not knowing the game all that well.
“When I came here, I lived and learned hanging out in the New Mexico State gym, listened to teammates, listened to coaches, and watched a lot of basketball on TV and even went to other games in the area.”
In his third year with the Raptors, he came of age. He averaged 16.9 points per game, pulled down 11.6 rebounds, became a shot-blocker, picked up his defense and his confidence.
Beating out DeAaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings and DeAngelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets, he had 26 20-point games after scoring 20 only once in his first two seasons. In game one of the NBA finals, he tossed in 32 points.
It didn’t take long for him to improve his game, it didn’t take long for him to win a championship in the prestigious NBA. The beat just goes on for the popular Siakam, and he speaks only of getting even better.