Pascal Siakam knows how tough it is to grab 20 rebounds in a game.
And so, the Toronto Raptors forward has a ton of respect for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who recorded his first triple-double of his career on Monday with 20 points, 20 boards and 10 assists.
Siakam hauled down 18 boards against New Orleans in Toronto’s regular-season opener in November. And so, his confidence surging, he bet teammate Norman Powell that he could get 15 a game after that.
“I was feeling myself,” Siakam said with a laugh. “I don’t even know if I got close to that. I stopped the bet, because I was getting two rebounds a game and it was bad.”
Siakam didn’t record double-digit rebounds until six games later, and still hasn’t got 15.
“I just know how hard it is to grab that many rebounds,” Siakam said. “It’s really impressive to be able to do that.”
The Raptors face Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder on Wednesday in Oklahoma City. The 21-year-old from Hamilton was the best player on the floor when the two teams met two weeks ago in Toronto, scoring 32 points in the Thunder’s 98-97 victory. It was the most points ever scored by a Canadian against the Raptors.
The 6-foot-5 guard wrote more history in his team’s 117-104 win over Minnesota on Monday. He became the youngest player in league history to record a 20-rebound triple double. He’s the second Canadian to record a triple-double (Steve Nash did it three times) and second Canadian to record a 20-point/20-rebound game behind Jamaal Magloire.
The only other guard to have a 20/20 triple-double in the past 30 seasons is former Thunder star Russell Westbrook. Only three other players registered 20/20 triple-doubles in their sophomore season: Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Oscar Robertson.
His Thunder teammates celebrated his big game. During his live TV postgame interview, teammate Dennis Schroder dumped two bottles of water over his head.
Gilgeous-Alexander will be a handful for the Raptors on Wednesday, Adrian Griffin said. The young guard is fast, and plays with the versatility and savvy of a veteran.
“It’s very rare, a lot of times for younger guys coming into the NBA, that’s something that you learn [over time]. That’s the Kyle Lowry stuff, 10 to 15 years, and they know all the nuances,” Toronto’s lead assistant said. “He has great ball control, you really can’t speed him up. He plays at his pace and he knows how to slow-to-fast, fast-to-slow, how to use his size and his strength. He has great command of his game for such a young guy.”
The Raptors are expected to have Marc Gasol back on Wednesday. The Spanish big man has missed 12 games with a hamstring injury.
The 34-year-old also had kind words for the Thunder’s Canadian star, saying his growth between his first and second seasons has been remarkable. Part of it comes with greater responsibility. He’s averaging nine more minutes a night than his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“You see it in his body language, his poise. You see his defensive presence. Now you’re seeing his shooting a little bit, too. You get to see the growth,” Gasol said. “Because the player that he was last year, you saw flashes, you saw the potential.
“Now, they increased his usage by quite a lot and the responsibility, and you really see what kind of person you also have. Is he a worker? Does he continue to get better? Does he take it for granted? You start to see all those things being answered when you’re put in the position of responsibility like he is now.”
Gilgeous-Alexander is one of a number of NBA players who are committed to playing for Canada in its last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament this summer in Victoria.
Gasol was a key member of the Spanish team that won gold at the World Cup last summer in China, and said at the time that he was surprised to see that Canada had just two NBAers – Cory Joseph and Khem Birch – in China.
“Hopefully you guys get them all to play on the international team,” Gasol said after practice on Tuesday. “That’s going to be the key. Because it’s one of the teams with the most potential worldwide. Outside of the U.S., as far as potential goes, I think Canada is right up there with anybody else. So, you’ve just got to get them to play.”
The Raptors are back home to play host to Washington on Friday.