Even if Kawhi Leonard decides to leave Toronto as a free agent this summer, his affect on the Raptors figures to be felt for years to come.
NBA Most Improved Player candidate Pascal Siakam says Leonard has given him some valuable lessons during the Raptors’ run to the NBA Finals.
“I’m trying to learn from him,” Siakam said as the Raptors geared up for Game 6 of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
“It’s incredible how he is always kind of calm and cool and collected every single time out there. It doesn’t matter when. He’s able to do it every single night. It’s pretty amazing to watch and something that you hope you can learn from.”
With Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol in their 30s, the 25-year-old Siakam would be the prime candidate to fill the marquee-player role in the near future if Leonard was to depart.
It would be a similar situation to when Chris Bosh signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, leaving DeMar DeRozan as the main man in Toronto. DeRozan famously tweeted “Don’t worry, I got us,” after Bosh joined LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in South Beach.
Of course, Siakam has not been thinking about that scenario with the Raptors carrying a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 6. The 6-foot-9 forward is simply trying to do his part in helping the Raptors win their first title in franchise history while getting an up-close look at one of the league’s best playoff performers in recent years.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but he’s a beast. … There’s not really much to say,” Siakam said. “I think just him out there every single night, the way he does it is incredible to watch. Just happy he’s on your team. He’s a guy that you want to go out there every single night to fight with.”
In Game 5, Leonard was in the midst of a so-so night by his standard before busting out with a 10-point spurt in the fourth quarter to give the Raptors a six-point lead on Monday at Scotiabank Arena. While Golden State ultimately prevailed 106-105 when Toronto missed a buzzer-beater, Leonard gave the Raptors a real chance to win on a night Golden State was far more successful from three-point range.
Siakam, meanwhile, spent much of the fourth quarter on the bench as he struggled to find his shot. He was 6-of-15 from the field with 12 points and four rebounds for the night.
“I think I’m getting decent looks,” Siakam said. “I’m getting open looks. I haven’t been able to make them, but I think I’m getting the shots that I want to most of the time. I’ve just got to be able to knock them down and continue being aggressive and finding ways to be effective.”
Leonard is thriving after playing just nine games last season with the San Antonio Spurs because of injury.
Therefore, he also can offer some advice for Warriors star forward Kevin Durant, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Game 5 – the same night he made his return from a calf injury.
“We work so hard to get to this point and the game gets taken away from you, especially with leg injuries and things like that, [and] you’re not really able to run or do anything on the floor,” Leonard said. “So you really just have to change your mindset on things and try to attack each day of getting better and just know that you’re going to play again one day.
“You want to come back as the player that you were. Make sure you come back when you feel healthy and you feel good enough that you feel confident enough in yourself to go back out there on the floor. Know that that day will come. And just like I said, attack each day. That’s your assignment, to get back to the thing that you love to do.”