TORONTO –It didn’t take very long for Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry to hit it off, especially on the court, but the Raptors’ first-time all-star remembers when he really felt like he was in with the veteran point guard.
“I got to hang out in [Lowry’s] jet one time,” a giddy Siakam recalled, without revealing too many details. “I’ll keep [where we went] between us. He invited me. It was a great text to get. I think that was pretty special.”
But well before they were flying to undisclosed locations on a private jet or sharing the mutual respect and great friendship they’ve developed over four years as teammates, Siakam and Lowry initially bonded through basketball.
The Raptors drafted Siakam 27th overall in 2016. Like most people, Lowry didn’t know much about the 22-year-old rookie from Cameroon when he showed up to training camp a few months later, but extenuating circumstances forced the two players to work together quicker than either would have expected.
With newly acquired power forward Jared Sullinger sustaining an injury during the preseason, Siakam was thrust into the starting lineup right out of the gate. He was extremely raw offensively and his role was limited, but Lowry saw something in the young forward.
Siakam was blessed with an unrelenting motor. His energy seemed endless and he was faster than almost anybody else at his position. Siakam would free himself up by simply outrunning everyone else on the floor at least once or twice a game. Lowry – always looking for Siakam in transition – would find him with a cross-court pass.
This was Siakam’s signature play before he patented his spin move or extended his shooting range, and Lowry made sure the Raptors utilized it.
In his rookie season, 67 per cent of Siakam’s 103 made field goals were assisted. Of those assisted field goals, 43 per cent (30 of 69) were set up by Lowry, with most coming in transition.
However, Lowry’s impact on the early stages of Siakam’s career extended beyond his outlet passes.
“Coming in, he’s always been the kind of guy to talk to you and reach out and have dinners,” Siakam said. “He takes you in and it’s great to have vets like that to look at. I’m definitely fortunate to have had a guy like that in my rookie year to connect [with] like we did, just having him as a big brother you can go to for information. No matter what it is, I know I can send him a text and he’ll have some advice for me.”
As a wide-eyed rookie, Siakam was friendly but reserved. He spent most of his time with fellow first-year players Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet, while Lowry had his best friend, DeMar DeRozan, next to him in the locker room.
For a while, Siakam just tried to observe how vets like Lowry and DeRozan prepared and approached the game.
“I would wait and pick my spots,” he said. “It took a little bit, but I always had the highest respect for those guys.”
Lowry has always been a basketball savant. Over the years, as he’s gotten more patient and become a better leader, he’s spent more time passing that knowledge on to the younger players. Siakam was a special case.
If they were being honest, most people would tell you they never saw Siakam’s ascension – from an energy guy who didn’t pick up the sport competitively until he was 16, to NBA champion, max contract player and all-star starter – coming. It’s an unprecedented jump over such a short period of time.
But Lowry says he’s not surprised. The skills have always been there, even if they weren’t developed yet, and so has the work ethic. He thinks Siakam is just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of.
“I think he's still growing, he's not catching up,” said the 33-year-old point guard. “When you [start] playing the game later, it's a quick turnaround. I think that's the one thing that he has and I think that's why he's just going to continue to get better and better, because he works and works and works. He's still learning things as he is going.”
Lowry has never looked at it like he’s had to teach Siakam anything. He’ll give him advice, but mostly it’s about offering and providing support.
“I talk to him about the game,” Lowry said. “I just mention things that I see for him. But other than that, I just let him do his thing.”
Siakam will be in Chicago this weekend, playing in his first NBA All-Star Game after being voted in as a starter last month. Most of his family will be there, including his mother, who he says is usually too nervous to watch him play live (he had to tell her the all-star game doesn’t count). It’ll be a special moment for the 25-year-old.
Lowry is making his sixth straight all-star appearance, voted in by the league’s coaches as a reserve. Given what he’s meant to Siakam’s growth as a player and what they’ve already been through together, it’s fitting that they get to share this experience.
Lowry remembers what it was like to make his all-star debut back in 2015 and has told Siakam what to expect, from media demands to rubbing elbows with some of the NBA’s greatest players – past and present.
Siakam will miss going on his annual mid-season vacation with Poeltl – something they’ve done during all-star weekend each year since coming into the league together – but he joked that his good friend and former teammate will understand.
For Siakam, this is a dream come true.
“I mean, obviously it’s validation, because you're considered one of the best in the league,” Siakam said. “Like, that should mean something. Like I said before, I wanted to be a starter. I wanted to be an all-star – not a borderline all-star. But now it's like, I want to stay there. I don't want to be there for one year. So there's always something bigger to fish for, like something that you can think of that's bigger than what you're accomplishing.”
Over the past eight months, Siakam has won an NBA title, been named the league’s Most Improved Player, signed a maximum contract extension, become the face of one of the best teams in the association, and is about to make his all-star debut as a starter. So, what’s next? What’s that next big fish?
“To be honest, I see more championships, I see MVP. I see so much more that I can accomplish,” he said. “There's no reason to be satisfied. There's no reason to be complacent.
“I don't think there's any ceiling [on how good I can be]. I never think that way. I never ever did that in life, period. So there's always something bigger, and I genuinely believe that.”