Pascal Siakam finds a perfect fit in Pacers' up-tempo offense following midseason trade

Wed, Feb 7, 2024
NBA News (AP)

Pascal Siakam finds a perfect fit in Pacers' up-tempo offense following midseason trade

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A few extra practices changed everything for Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam.

It gave the two-time All-Star time to bond with his new coaches and teammates. It gave him a glimpse into how he fits into the league's highest-scoring offense and the expectations of his new role. Heck, he even had a brief moment to find a new restaurant.

Now three weeks after being traded from Toronto, all the extra work seems to be paying dividends for Siakam and the Pacers.

"I'm trying to find a way to come into a good team and complement the team," he said after scoring 29 points in Tuesday's 132-129 win over the Rockets. "It's just finding that balance, bringing everyone along with me because of the level of play I can play at. So I think it's about understanding those things and continuing to be aggressive, which is what the team wants me to do anyway."

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Make no mistake, there is a learning curve even for a versatile, elite player such as Siakam.

Coach Rick Carlisle said the Pacers gradually have expanded their playbook to fit Siakam's style without asking him to do too much too soon.

Point guard Tyrese Haliburton readily acknowledges there have been occasional miscommunications during games and even sought the advice of Houston guard Fred VanVleet, Siakam's longtime teammate in Toronto, about how to make Siakam feel more comfortable following Tuesday's game.

Carlisle knew the transition would take time, and yet the early results look promising.

The Pacers lost their first three games with Siakam, when he averaged 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds. Since then, though, Indiana has gone 5-3 as Siakam's averages jumped to 24.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and he produced his first triple-double in 15 months.

"I was talking (to VanVleet) more about where I can help Pascal and where he thinks his best spots are," said Haliburton, who makes his All-Star starting debut next week. "We are able to bounce ideas off of each other really easily, and I think that both of us are of the same mentally - we want to win."

Those are some of the reasons Carlisle and president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard were willing to send three first-round picks and three players - Bruce Brown, Jordan Nwora and Kira Lewis - to the Raptors for Siakam's expiring contract.

There were others, though.

His resume and work ethic serve as reminders in Indiana's young locker room about what it takes to win in the NBA.

Siakam grew up in Cameroon, moved to the U.S. at age 18 and turned pro after winning the Western Athletic Conference freshman of the year award in 2014-15 and the WAC player of the year award in 2015-16 while playing for New Mexico State.

Toronto drafted him No. 27 overall in 2016 and while he started 38 games as a rookie, he also spent time playing for the Raptors' G League affiliate, with whom he won a championship and the finals MVP award.

"He was such an interesting prospect when he arrived, just so full of energy and speed and running the floor and an awesome love of the game," said Philadelphia 76ers coach Nick Nurse, who worked closely with Siakam in Toronto. "He wanted to go the G League. He fell out of the rotation a little bit and he was like, 'I want to go down there and get better.' I thought that was really cool."

Two years later, Siakam played a key role in the Raptors' title run and was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. He earned All-NBA recognition in 2019-20 and 2021-22, made All-Star appearances in 2020 and 2023 and still plays at an All-Star level.

Plus, the 29-year-old serves as an experienced role model and mentor for a team that can use both.

"I think our guys are pretty aware about how he can help us, I should say the many ways he can help us," Carlisle said recently. "It's still early, but Pascal has such a great vibe as a player. He's a player that you're drawn to as a fan just because of how he carries himself and how much joy he plays with."

Siakam's value to the Pacers can be felt in other ways, too.

While their track-meet style offense accentuates his strengths, Siakam's versatility and natural fit as a stretch four has allowed Carlisle to play Aaron Nesmith more at small forward and find minutes for rookie guard Ben Sheppard and others.

Plus, he could help the Pacers finally rewrite their recent postseason history.

Indiana missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons, hasn't reached the second round since 2013-14 and has lost a postseason franchise-record nine consecutive games.

The quest begins in earnest in two months. Until then, Siakam must take advantage of the rare practices to get fully in tune with his new teammates.

"We just haven't had enough time to be able to put it all together," Siakam said. "I'm sure he (Haliburton) is going to learn a little bit about me. I'm just trying to figure out the best way to be effective and, yeah, we're just going to continue to get better."

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