Rap­tors’ Siakam em­braces lead role with club

The Peterborough Examiner - - >>SPORTS - PETER BLACK

QUE­BEC — Pascal Siakam isn’t con­cerned about the pres­sure on him to fill de­parted su­per­star Kawhi Leonard’s shoes.

The Toronto Rap­tors for­ward sees it as an op­por­tu­nity.

“This is who I am. I’ve al­ways been a guy that’s ready to work hard and take ad­van­tage of all the op­por­tu­ni­ties that are given,” Siakam, 25, said as the Rap­tors con­tin­ued train­ing camp at Laval Univer­sity on Mon­day. “There’s an op­por­tu­nity for me and I’m just ready for the chal­lenge.”

The six-foot-nine Siakam said he will be fo­cus­ing on spe­cific ar­eas of his game as the de­fend­ing Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion champs pre­pare for the pre-sea­son.

He fig­ures to be in the spot­light this sea­son af­ter Leonard signed with his home­town Los An­ge­les Clip­pers in free agency.

“Ball-han­dling and tak­ing care of the ball. Play­mak­ing ob­vi­ously comes with hav­ing the bas­ket­ball in my hands more. Ob­vi­ously shoot­ing and just try­ing to find that in-be­tween game. And my force game — that’s my bread and but­ter,” Siakam said.

Siakam av­er­aged 19 points per game dur­ing the play­offs, se­cond on the team.

“If you want to be one of the top scor­ers, you have to score in dif­fer­ent ways,” he said. “I think that’s some­thing I learned, just try­ing to find ways to score. What­ever the de­fence is giv­ing me, try­ing to take ad­van­tage of that, and be­ing able to make a play no mat­ter who’s in front of you.”

As far as the Rap­tors ad­just­ing to the loss of Leonard and Danny Green, the Cameroon-born Siakam told re­porters in French “we played a lot of games with­out Kawhi and we know well that we are com­pet­i­tive and we have a good group that’s more ex­pe­ri­enced so we ex­pect to have a good sea­son.”

The Rap­tors were17-5 with­out Leonard last sea­son.

Rap­tors guard Fred VanVleet thinks Siakam will be just fine in the new role.

“I’ve been hear­ing that a lot. I’m not sure how much higher he needs to go,” VanVleet said. “He had an un­be­liev­able year last year and the only rea­son it wasn’t looked at as as­ton­ish­ing is be­cause he was next to Kawhi who was on a whole dif­fer­ent planet. The big­gest thing I see is him get­ting more dou­ble teams and triple teams. So his game is go­ing to have to ad­just. It’s a jour­ney, he’s a young guy. We have to be there to sup­port him along the way.”

Siakam was picked 27th over­all in the NBA draft out of New Mex­ico State.

He has in­creased his scor­ing av­er­age each sea­son (4.2 points per game in 2016-17, 7.3 in ’17-18 and 16.9 last year when he was named the league’s most im­proved player).

The team then flies to Tokyo for two pre-sea­son games against the Hous­ton Rock­ets next week.

JAC­QUES BOISSINOT THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Pascal Siakam han­dles the ball at a Rap­tors train­ing camp prac­tice Tues­day at Laval Univer­sity in Que­bec City.

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