Why Pascal Siakam was the Raptors' MVP in 2021-22

From recovering from shoulder surgery, to facing criticism from fans and media, Pascal Siakam went through a mentally and physically exhausting 2021. But in 2022, the 28-year-old showed why he deserves his max-level contract. Listen to the full 'Raptors Awards' episode on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed or watch on our Yahoo Sports Canada YouTube.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: Finally and possibly most importantly, MVP. Who is your-- who is our person?

AARON ROSE: So, in terms of most valuable player-- and this actually isn't on the list-- but in terms of most valuable player moving forward, we talked about him already. It's Scottie Barnes. But in terms of most valuable player-- who was the most valuable player on this team this season? I think we both agree. It's Pascal Siakam. And after everything he went through the past two seasons-- and Michael Grange wrote a great story on that. The vitriol that was sent his way, the injuries he had to deal with, being locked inside because of the pandemic-- and this is a guy who is very afraid of these pathogens like the pandemic. His first surgery was this past offseason, when he had never had surgery before. He talked about these at-home remedies he used to have growing up. And finally going under the knife-- he was petrified of that. And to come back and have the season he had-- and he was way better than he had been in years past on the defensive end. He got back to scoring at two levels. And we'll talk about that third level coming up.


AARON ROSE: But he was a two-level scorer. He got to the rim. He got into that mid-range shot. His playmaking was better than we've ever seen. He took a step forward two years ago in that Tampa season. Last year, or this past season, it was even better. He was getting a second defender, and he was making the right play. We didn't mention those triple-double games and the one he almost had. That's because he was putting up 13 assists a night, 10 assists a night-- sometimes seven assists a night. He was a point guard. And when Fred went out of the lineup, he took over at that point guard responsibilities alongside Scottie Barnes. And I think we'll see that next year. We'll see Fred playing more as a two-- as a shooting guard, off-ball-- as the Raptors tried to do at times this season. And you'll see Pascal Siakam rendezvous point as a 6 foot 9-- I think he's one of the true 6 foot 9 guys-- a 6 foot 9 forward who can do everything.

Now, the big question mark moving forward is that three-point shot. Can he get back to where it was a few seasons ago, where it was at something like 37% on just over six attempts per game. If he gets back to that, well, we know he's a great defender. We know he's a playmaker now. We know he can score at two levels. If he can get back to his third level, well, what can't this guy do? And I think that is why, even at 28 years old, this guy has come back-- every offseason he's had to really have an offseason-- not getting shoulder surgery, not being plagued by the pandemic-- he's come back better. Now, is he ever going to be a top-five player in the league? That's really, really hard. I would bet against it. But at the same time, Siakam has defied all the odds before. So I don't know. Call me crazy. Maybe he can do it. But for this season, he was the best player on the team. And I think he really rose to the call time after time after time. That game 3 second half was a disaster for him. He owned it, and then he came back better the next two games. And we saw that this season, so kudos to him. He really had a spectacular season.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, no question. And dealing with these circumstances-- it's unfortunate that he had to deal with pandemic issues that we all had. We all had our own little pandemic issues over these past couple of years, but his were very public. And that's not the way it should be. But unfortunately, as a public figure, that's how it went. So when it comes to him being scared of getting through coronavirus-- then he actually ended up getting it. Him being scared of surgeries and stuff like this-- these aren't things that we should know. But because he is who he is, we found out. So the internal battle that I'm sure he went through and also the ridicule that you had mentioned-- the racism, the comments about his deceased father, things that crossed the line-- he dealt with all of this in public. That is not fair. That is not what common people have to do-- even NBA players have to do. But unfortunately, those were the circumstances that were in front of him.

And even that Michael Grange story that you mentioned-- in that story, he actually outlined that, yeah, Bobby and Masai Ujiri came to him last offseason. And they were looking at the work that he was doing, and they were like, it's not good enough. Imagine doing that to a person who has gone through all that he's gone through and still saying that he wasn't good enough. But, to his credit, again, he has become like this cerebral playmaker-- and these games where he's getting like 10 assists, 12 assists, 13 assists. The processing power that he has now-- and using his gravity to lure defenders towards him-- it's a rare quality. And getting to a superstar level-- it's very difficult. We talk about how many superstars really are in the NBA. We're talking LeBron, KD, Giannis-- I mean, there's a few more players. Jokic, Joel Embiid-- that's kind of the core, and that's what we're looking at Pascal Siakam to do. Many, many, many, many, many players have failed to do this-- to become a true number one option in the NBA.

But the stride that he made this offseason, or this season, as a mid-range scorer and being able to orchestrate offense from different levels of the court-- and if he's able to add this three-point shot that we're talking about, and if the Raptors are able to add three-point shooting because that was one of the deficiencies-- you saw in that game 6 where Pascal had a tremendous first half. Second half-- what happened? The 76ers-- they turned off the water, man. That's what they did. They said that we're going to make some other guys score. And unfortunately, those guys didn't do it. And Nick Nurse said it afterwards too. He's like, Pascal was great. He was making the passes, but they weren't hitting the shots.

So add in all these factors. We could be seeing a really special season from Pascal Siakam next year, keeping in mind, again, like you're talking about, he has a full off season-- the first time he's had that in two years. First time around-- pandemic. Last season-- it was a shoulder surgery so he wasn't able to go full tilt. He's going to be doing that this offseason. I would not be surprised if we see a completely different player from the three-point line next season. And I think he was even doing some tweaking with his three-point shot throughout this season. Even his mid-range too-- you could kind of see it. From the beginning of the season to the end, it does look different. It's very small tweaks that they make. But when you go to Nick Nurse shooting school, things are going to probably bode pretty well for you.

I don't know, man. We could be on the verge of seeing something really special from Pascal Siakam, especially with all the Raptors getting a little bit better. They made their decision that they were just going to let them play. Let the kids play. Let's have recess. Let's go to the YMCA, and let's just see how things go. That's essentially what they did, but it got really good. They got really good production from different players, and this was a valuable experience. And everyone who is in that top five, top six, top seven is going to get better this offseason. And if they add a few more three-point shooters, they're able to at least sustain some level of shooting around Pascal. They're going to be dangerous, and he is going to be an unbelievable player next year. I'll bank on it, for sure.

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