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Pascal Siakam enjoys all-star moment, although he’d prefer one he could share with his team

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There’s a little bit of conflict within Pascal Siakam.

He lives for team success but has to revel in individual accomplishments and honours. And it was a delicate balancing act he had to pull off as he hung around with the best basketball players on Earth at the NBA’s all-star weekend.

The Raptors don’t have a particularly good record, nor a place among legitimate championship contenders, but Siakam is putting up historically good numbers. The former is the reason Eastern Conference coaches left him out of their all-star reserve selections. The latter — he is the only player in the East to be averaging 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists a game — made his addition as an injury replacement a no-brainer.

“I’m so happy he made the all-star team, he deserved it,” said Detroit coach Dwane Casey, who coached Siakam as his career began in Toronto. “I don’t know what the other crazy coaches — 14 coaches, 13 coaches, whatever it is — were thinking about. He should have been on the first ballot … He deserves it.”

That is the essential part of the obvious conflict. Team success is a huge part of being selected to an all-star team, coaches will tell you, and the Raptors’ scuffling start to the season held Siakam back.

“Certainly we’ve benefitted in the past (from team success) and didn’t this year” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Surprised he didn’t make it, so I guess when they were looking to add he had to be at the top of the list. Good for him … He’s played like an all-star this year, for sure.”

But getting the honour created that small conflict for the 28-year-old native of Cameroon.

“Obviously the player that I am, it goes with the team success,” he said in a conversation with the Star. “I want to win, that’s the only thing I’m really focused on, so it was tough, especially after not making it the first time.

“It was tough to get up to want to do it but, at the end of the day, it’s a blessing and that’s how I see it: being blessed, being able to have this opportunity. But team success for me is above everything.”

Siakam, selected by Giannis Antetokounmpo as “my African brother” in the draft of reserves, had 12 points in 15 minutes as Team Giannis beat Team LeBron 184-175 behind an all-star game record 55 points from Boston’s Jayson Tatum, the game MVP.

Neither captain lasted the entire game. Antetokounmpo scored the game’s first basket and immediately committed a foul so he could get out of the game and rest an injured wrist. James, feted at halftime for becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer, sat out the second half after suffering a hand injury.

Hamilton’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, had nine points in 10 minutes of his all-star debut.

Siakam should serve as a perfect example of driving oneself to individual honours while serving as a leader by example. He made his second All-Star Game appearance Sunday, he has twice been named to post-season all-NBA teams, he has one championship to his credit, and he was the league’s most improved player in 2019.

“I never put a cap on what I can accomplish. That’s just me, period,” he said. “For some people (the self-confidence and determination) might be seen a certain way but I do believe in me and I believe in the work that I put in and I won’t put any limit on what I can accomplish.”

If young Raptors teammates like Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes don’t see what Siakam’s work ethic can bring, if they don’t follow the example he has set, that speaks to their character, not his.

“I never want to see it as carry (a team) because I know we have enormous talent … you want to be able separate yourself, that’s how I see it and that’s my way of leading,” he said. “I want to show that I’m putting 100 per cent into this and I really love this and I want to do this and I really want to win and that comes with working really, really hard every day. Being the first into the gym, being the last to leave, doing all the extra stuff. That’s me and that’s my way of showing that.”

It’s obvious Siakam was having fun through most of the all-star weekend, even if his late addition messed up plans for a warm-weather family vacation. He was front and centre filming Mac McClung’s incredible performance in the dunk contest, and he watched Barnes play in the Rising Stars event. There were events for African basketball and Basketball Without Borders that were important to him.

No question he belonged.

“For people that know my journey, know my story, having anything is a blessing and just knowing how hard it was for me to get to where I am, I just … feel blessed every single time good things happen because I do know low moments. So when the high moments happen, you have to be able to enjoy them.”

Source : Toronto Star