Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam knows he wasn’t himself in the NBA’s bubble playoffs, and he’s not running away from it.
Siakam was on an astronomical trajectory until COVID-19 hit. He was coming off the championship in 2019, was named Most Improved Player, secured a lucrative extension worth upwards of $150 million, and he was cruising through his fourth season where he made his first All-Star appearance, then was named to the All-NBA team, before the world was brought to a halt.
When the NBA restarted inside the Disneyland campus three months later, Siakam was noticeably absent. He wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the eight seeding games leading up to the playoffs, and even struggled at times against the depleted Brooklyn Nets. It all bubbled to the surface against the Boston Celtics, where Siakam struggled badly with averages of less than 15 points on under 40 percent shooting as the Raptors lost a bitter seven-game series to their Atlantic Division rivals.
“It was weird watching myself. When I watched the game, one of the things I really pointed out was just that I didn’t recognize myself in terms of having fun. I’m always someone that has fun playing the game, and I love this game, and I don’t ever want to play the game without any joy,” Siakam explained on a call with reporters on Thursday as part of Toronto’s training camp.
Siakam is always a hard worker during the offseason — as evidenced by the consistent and steady climb in his statistics — but he admits that the Raptors’ second-round exit gave him an added edge in his training. On top of his usual basketball regiment, Siakam recruited a crew of trainers that includes fitness coaches, a nutritionist, and a personal chef to help him be on top of his game as he takes on an even greater responsibility for the Raptors in 2021.
Taking care of his mental health was one of Siakam’s main priorities. Siakam admits that the pandemic and the strict shutdown that came with it took a toll on his performance, on top of family problems and the other realities of life. Getting himself to a happier place, and staying there, will be just as important as anything tangible when it comes to basketball.
“I looked at the games, and things I could do better, but overall getting right, getting right man. There’s a lot of things going on in the world and I think we all gotta make sure that we get right, and for me that was the main focus, just getting right. I am in a good place right now, I feel happy and excited about the future, and I feel like I have that joy again,” Siakam said.
It didn’t help that social media piled on Siakam following his poor playoff showing. Kyle Lowry’s advice to Siakam was to soak in all the negativity and to use it as motivation, which Lowry did following the Raptors’ first-round sweep in 2015, but Siakam took a different approach and shut out all the noise entirely.
“If I listened to people, I would never be where I am today. It’s something I have never done in my life. If I listened to doubts about where I was supposed to be, or what my ceiling was supposed to be, or where I was coming into the league, what I was defined by other people, like I never listened to that and I’m not going to start today,” Siakam said.
“I have never paid attention to it. I was disappointed, the fact that we didn’t win and the fact that I didn’t play the way I wanted to, and I don’t think anybody could be more disappointed than I was.
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