You have to feel a bit sorry for basketball fans in Canada.
Although they get to enjoy their own domestic league, as far as top-tier basketball is concerned they have just one NBA franchise to call their own – the Toronto Raptors.
So what a tremendous fillip it was when the Raptors took the NBA Championship back to Canada in 2019 at the end of an outstanding season.
They haven’t been able to replicate that feat since, but there is a sense that 2022-23 could be the campaign in which Toronto is there or thereabouts when the NBA Finals get underway in June.
Siakam Aiming for Star Status
Although he was selected for the All-NBA Third Team last term, you sense that Pascal Siakam would have been a little disappointed not to be more widely recognized for his efforts out on the court.
The 28-year-old served up 1,551 regular season points and ranked seventh for total rebounds in that elite group that smashed the 1,500-point ceiling. Siakam also ranked eighth in the NBA for personal fouls drawn and inside the top-30 for free throws made and assists.
In short, he was an all-court star that was once again underrated by the sport’s chief king-makers.
The good news for Raptors supporters is that Siakam will stick around at the Scotiabank Arena, with Bobby Webster able to fight off trade suitors ahead of the new campaign.
The bad news is that his contract runs out at the end of the 2023-24 campaign, and the only likely way that Siakam could be persuaded to stay in Toronto beyond then is if they are able to secure the NBA Championship this season or next. To that end, those who enjoy NBA betting in Canada will be aware that odds of +4000 leave the Raptors with plenty of work to do to catch market favorites Boston Celtics (+500), Golden State Warriors (+600) and LA Clippers (+700).
But at least their Cameroon ace will have the bit between his teeth having been overlooked for All-Star selection last term…
The Benefit of Youth
The president of the Raptors, Masai Ujiri, has spoken of his desire to rebuild his franchise around Siakam and a core of young stars.
Toronto were torn asunder after winning the championship in 2019 – Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry simply cannot be replaced overnight. But the rebuild is gathering pace, and the likes of Fred VanVleet – an All-Star now, remember – and Gary Trent Jr delivered career-best campaigns as a result of being entrusted by head coach Nick Nurse.
And then there’s NBA Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, who is yet further proof that investing in the sharpest young talent could yield long-term gains for Toronto.
Barnes was so good in 2021-22 that simply replicating those efforts will be pleasing enough in his sophomore year, and he – aided by Siakam, Trent Jr and VanVleet – can form the spine of a Raptors roster that has the class to go deep into the postseason shake-up. Others, such as the 22-year-old Precious Achiuwa, are proof that investing in youth can yield dividends on the court, and with a determined Siakam on board powered by a point to prove, perhaps Toronto can look forward to celebrating another NBA Championship at the end of the season.