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Reaching LeBron-level passing skills among Siakam's final hurdles

Pascal Siakam says he can learn from everyone. Conquering LeBron James-level passing is among his final hurdles to superstar status
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LeBron James is arguably the best passing forward in NBA history.

Over his 17 years in the league, he's become a wizard with the ball, collapsing defenses around his dribble penetration before kicking the ball out to open 3-point shooters for easy buckets.

In the five seasons between 2013-14 and 2017-18, Golden State's Stephen Curry led all NBA shooters with 1,485 3-pointers made. He turned the league upside down with his 3-point shooting, leading the Warriors to three championships in four years.

During that same span, James was creating 3-point buckets at nearly the same impressive rate. He assisted on 1,318 3-point shots during those seasons, according to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry, leading his teams to the Finals every single year.

Figure10_Assisted3s

This season, at 35-years-old, James has done it again. He's leading the NBA in points created by assists with 26.5 points per game, according to NBA Stats, and he's second to only Ben Simmons in 3-pointers created, according to PBP Stats.

So when a reporter asked Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam if he'd ever studied James' tape to try and learn how to improve his passing and reach James-level stardom, Siakam took it personally.

"Thanks for the input," he quipped. "I might go and do that now."

To Siakam, it was like asking Beethoven if he'd ever listened to Mozart. Of course, Siakam has watched tape of James' passing, because to make the kind of year-over-year improvements Siakam has made, you need to study everyone's film.

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"I watch everyone," Siakam continued. "I think I can learn from anybody."

The point of the question was to get at the next level of Siakam's growth as a creator for the Raptors.

Over the past three years, he's gone from a high energy role player to a secondary rim runner with some catch-and-shoot ability, to the Raptors' primary scorer. It's been a meteoric rise for the 26-year-old who recently joked that he's even sure if he's been playing basketball for a decade yet.

"I think he's done outstanding," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Sunday night. "I think that's a big kind of mantle to carry in this league, to be a guy that goes out there and gets between 23 and 28 points every night or whatever, as a lead scorer. I think he's handled it great and the best part about it from my standpoint is there's still a lot of ceiling there, I think. So that's encouraging."

If the Raptors are going to repeat as NBA champions this season, Siakam is going to have to take his game to another level and reach the next and arguably toughest level of star-status: Superstardom. For that, he'll need to prove he can do it in crunch time, both scoring in the clutch and making the kind of James-esque passes that win playoff games.

"He's been really good down the stretch, either making the shot or making the zip out to somebody else who's wide open to make a shot," Nurse said. "That's another level up that you've got to go, can you do it consistently, first of all, in the regular season, and then can you do it kind of consistently late in games, because that's kind of the job of being the number one option." 

Siakam's offensive clutch numbers have been pretty impressive this season. He ranks among the NBA's best in Offensive Rating in the Clutch, as defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer. He's accounted for a third of the Raptors points in the clutch, but his passing statistics still lag behind the NBA's truly elite.

"I've always felt like I've been a willing passer," Siakam said. "Just me, being in situations, making better reads and understanding that you're going to get [opposing defense's] attention, and knowing how to be aggressive, and knowing how to defer, so I think it's something that I'm learning."

As Siakam continues to grow in his new role as the Raptors' offensive centerpiece, that feel for opposing defenses will come. He'll learn to spot double teams and notice when opposing defenses collapse around his dribble penetration so he can kick out to open shooters.

And though he may never reach James-level passing ability, you can rest assured knowing he's not going to stop trying.