The first few years in the NBA are always a learning experience for young players.
It's not just on the court where the basketball is exponentially better than anywhere they've ever played in the past, but it's the off the court lifestyle that is totally different from anything they've ever experienced before. That's what Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam has had to figure out recently. It's one thing to have elite talent, but it's another thing to be able to preserve those talents and stay healthy enough to maintain the wear and tear of an NBA season.
This past offseason the 26-year-old Siakam took fans behind the scenes to see what life is like as an elite NBA player. He worked out with Red Bull doing all kinds of advanced training and bloodwork analytics to make sure his body was in ideal NBA condition.
"Coming into the year, wanting to continue to get better... making that sure my body is my temple and that’s something I’ve got to focus on more," he said Sunday after Toronto's 115-102 victory over the Orlando Magic. "I have to do more, eat the right things because once you get to this level, all those things matter."
Over the last little while, Siakam said he hasn't been feeling 100%. He was battling the kinds of bumps and bruises that come with playing NBA games night after night and it was beginning to wear on him. He wasn't going to use it as an excuse per se, but it was certainly affecting his performance.
At times this year, he looked completely afraid to attack the rim. Instead of attacking and finishing through contact, he appeared to be hoping foul calls would bail him out of his weak finishes. When things got really bad, he was settling for outside jump shots, taking 36% of his shots from behind the arc compared to just 20% at the rim through the first five games of the year, according to Cleaning the Glass.
On Sunday night against the Magic, however, that old Pascal Siakam came back. He said he finally felt healthy again and it allowed him to get back to finishing at the rim. Eleven of his 23 shots came within the restricted area and only four came outside the paint.
"I think it’s a conscious effort on his part, our part to get him going to the basket and get him a little bit more composed at the basket," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I think you can see him, the times that he gets in there, takes his time, gets to two feet, gets to that right-hand jump hook or something, those are going in. It’s the twisting, turning fall-away jumpers sometimes you’re thinking that’s a tough shot, and a lot of those don’t go in, but I thought he did a great job of reading the gaps when they were there."
In order to do all of that, Siakam has to feel confident in his body. He needs to know he can finish through contact and bounce right back up without much wear and tear.
"If I feel good, I have the ability to go out there and bring the energy and live with the results," he said. "I just think my body is feeling good and I take the game as it comes."
That's going to be the key for Siakam going forward. Eventually, he's going to have to mix in some 3-point shooting this season, but it's all about being confident and not having to worry about finishing through contact.
That youthful exuberance is what earned him his spot in the NBA. Now he, his training team, and the medical staff have to make sure he can preserve that because the Pascal Siakam that showed up Sunday night is the one the Raptors are going to need for the years to come.