The month of December has been a challenging one for the Toronto Raptors.
From a lack of winning to a plethora of injuries, positives have been tough to come by.
But there has been one constantly positive presence around the Raptors. Even during a month-long injury absence, Pascal Siakam has been an everyday positive influence and fully fitting the bill of what any team wants in its very best player.
Siakam’s season has not been bump-free, far from it in fact, but as each and every obstacle presented itself, Siakam responded in a positive fashion.
In the season of gift-giving, Siakam has been the biggest package under the Raptors’ Christmas tree.
Siakam set the tone for his season right from the outset. In training camp, when talk often turns to goals and hopes for the coming season, Siakam confidently stated his desire to join the elite of the NBA.
“I just feel like it was time to take another step … After the year that I had, there’s so much I can get better on … I want to be a top-5 player in the league. I want to be one of the best and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there. I’m ready for it. It’s time.”
A 10-game absence after suffering a groin strain when he slipped on a wet Dallas court in early November set him back a little, but even that could not derail Siakam.
In his 23 games this season, Siakam is averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 assists, and 8.5 rebounds per game. In his 12 December games, those numbers are 28.2 ppg, 6.7 apg, and 7.9 rpg.
The Raptors’ struggles have been widespread this season, but Siakam is one of maybe two players — O.G. Anunoby the other — who have remained immune from the on-court setbacks, excluding, of course, injury.
But to solely measure Siakam’s game by his on-court impact would be a mistake.
Perhaps the biggest strides he has made and shown this season, and really over the past two, is by how he deals with adversity both on and off the court.
It’s no secret that Siakam struggled both mentally and physically coming out of the pandemic lockdown. It affected his game. It affected his mood. It drastically affected the way he dealt with any kind of struggle.
It was evident in the way he played the game in the Bubble, when the NBA took the entire league to Orlando to finish the 2019-20 season.
It was still evident again a year later when the Raptors moved to Tampa, and Siakam had some uncharacteristic outbursts over a very trying season for the entire organization.
But some hard work on himself changed all that. The Siakam that emerged from 2020-21 off-season surgery on his shoulder and returned to the floor early in 2021 was much more even-keeled, handling both highs and lows with relative ease.
“Obviously, we had a great example of that with Kawhi (Leonard), like someone that nothing really fazed him,” Siakam said earlier this year. “He was just focused on his goals and his goal was winning. It didn’t matter if he shot bad or whatever, or had a good game, he had the same mentality.
“But also, for me, and just personally going through stuff, like I understand that,” Siakam said. “Again, things come and go. I’m not attached to it. I’m attached to the process of it. I’m attached to coming in every single day working hard, trying to be the best player way that I can be. And no matter what results, just having the same mentality and going at it every day. And when you go through a lot, and a lot of ups and downs, you understand that.
“Again, like, I’m me if I have zero points or I have 50 points,” Siakam said, “and as long as I put in the work every day, I’m okay with the results.”
It’s perhaps the healthiest approach a professional athlete can have, given the pressures of producing every day.
And it applies to team struggles the same way it applies to personal ones.
In the midst of a tough stretch in mid-December, Siakam was asked how he stayed positive with all the negative energy surrounding the team that comes with a losing streak.
“Be yourself,” he said. “I always try to be myself and be real with myself. Being real with myself isn’t like I don’t care or I’m not trying to win or I’m not trying to get better. It’s just that I understand that whatever happened, (has already) happened. What can I do now to change it? I have to go back, and I have to work, I have to watch film, I have to see what I can do better, and then do them.
“Me being mad and sad and depressed is not going to help change what happened. What’s going to help me change what happened is me going back and watching what I didn’t do right and doing it right the next time. Put that foot forward every single time and that’s what I try to do.”
The Raptors know what they have in Siakam. They have a top-echelon player in the league that has been with them from the beginning of his career.
He has gone from being a late-first round pick to a multi-time all-star, with more such honours assuredly to come.
He is the No. 1 option in their offence and one of their best defenders.
And best of all, he’s neither plateaued nor is content with the heights he has reached at the age of 28 and six years into his career.
Siakam is under contract through this season and next, and eligible to hit free agency following the 2023-24 season.
But seeing Siakam anywhere but in Raptors colours for years to come would be a shock.
Siakam is the type of gift that, once delivered, doesn’t get exchanged.
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