The Toronto Raptors need to find help for Pascal Siakam.
The Toronto Raptors didn’t have to sign Siakam when they did. With one year left on his contract, the team could have waited to give him his big pay-day. However, after he shot 54.9 percent from the floor, averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, and was a key piece on an NBA Championship winning team, the team didn’t want to wait any longer to sign him.
Although his contract was a monster deal, it made perfect sense at the time. Siakam was only going to improve and seemed like a player who you could build around. That narrative continued to stay true when the Power Forward was named a starter at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game is a glorified scrimmage, but in the NBA, it’s a huge accomplishment to be named a starter. It means that you made it and that you’re one of the best players in the NBA. It’s something that shouldn’t be looked at lightly and the Raptors seemed like they could do damage with Siakam leading the way.
But then, the global pandemic changed everything.
Siakam went from having his best statistical season to becoming a shell of himself. In the NBA ‘Bubble”, his shooting percentage dropped to 39.6 percent (from 45.3 percent) and he was averaging 5.9 fewer points per game during the playoffs. It may be unfair to put the blame strictly on one player’s performance, but it’s easy to argue that Siakam was the reason the Raptors didn’t advance past the Boston Celtics.
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As the franchise player, the team needed him to step up, yet he only scored 20-plus points once in the Celtics series. It was disappointing, but we shouldn’t put complete blame on him. Life is bigger than basketball and although we put these professional basketball players on a pedestal, they’re human too.
Being asked to live in a bubble and isolate without your friends and family is tough. Many of us have been dealing with these same issues for the past 10 months and it can be a struggle. Mentally and physically it’s tough to be at your best, no matter what you do for work. The same everyday life struggles apply to Siakam and that funk has continued this season, most notably because the Raptors have had to once again play in a “Bubble,” being in Tampa Bay instead of Toronto.
Siakam has mentioned multiple times how it’s been incredibly tough for him.
"“The world is crazy right now….There’s so many different things that we all have to deal with as individuals, and I think it was no different for me. Just dealing with different things – from the virus, to just all the things that are going on the world, family problems, it was just a lot of things. I didn’t feel like I was where I wanted to be physically and mentally.” (via: TSN.ca)"
Like anyone who’s mastered a craft, it’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t excel at something the same way you used to. Whether you’re not able to lift the same amount of weight as you used to, score as well as you could in golf or maybe not run as many laps as you once could, getting over that mental and physical hump is incredibly difficult to do. Add on the everyday struggle of being away from friends and family, while playing in front of zero fans and that stress can crush you.
Siakam understands how great he is, but he’s frustrated that he isn’t reaching his potential. It boiled over so much that Nick Nurse benched him for a “discipline thing for an internal matter.”
If you’ve never experienced mental struggles, it sucks. Your brain and body are so fatigued and foggy that you lash at the littlest things for no reason. Not being able to experience joy anymore is one of the hardest things to deal with and that seems to be what Siakam is going through. Obviously, I’m not going to speculate on his exact issues, but based on his comments, it’s easy to see that he’s worn out.
If the Toronto Raptors continue to lose games, their season could be over before we know it. I know the team has $130M invested in him, but it could benefit both parties to sit Siakam for a few more games and let him get his joy back. If he continues to struggle on the court, his career could spiral of control. The team should start investing in the human-being that is Siakam right now, instead of the basketball player at the moment.