Pascal Siakam is one of the NBA draft's best stories.
The New Mexico State product arrived in the United States from Cameroon in November 2012, and he had just started playing basketball after getting discovered at a Basketball Without Borders camp run by NBA forward and fellow Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute.
He was only at that camp because he was home for the summer from boarding school, and that's where his friends were going to be.
"I was a soccer player," Siakam told me in February. "Basketball wasn't my thing. I went there and saw the way people were playing and thought it was fun. My brothers played, but I really didn't want to play basketball. But I went there and it was fun and I got selected [to go to the next city's camp]."
Siakam spent three years at New Mexico State, redshirting as a freshman. His father, who was the mayor of Makenene, Cameroon, and dreamed that one of his sons would play in the NBA, died in an October 2014 car wreck.
After winning WAC Player of the Year as a sophomore, Siakam decided to declare for the draft and try to live out his father's dream.
|Pascal Siakam by the numbers|
|New Mexico State Athletics|
Siakam put up numbers against one of the worst conferences in college basketball—the WAC ranked 27th out of 32, according to kenpom.com's ratings—but showed himself well when the Aggies faced tougher competition.
He averaged 22 points in two games against New Mexico. He had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks at Wichita State, and he went for 26 points and 10 boards against Baylor, who started projected first-rounder Taurean Prince at power forward and had one of the best front lines in college basketball.
"He's definitely an NBA-caliber player," Baylor coach Scott Drew told Bleacher Report. "The thing that sticks out to me is how much he's improved in the last year. The first time we played him [in 2014-15], he spent most of his time in the paint.
"But this season he moved away from the basket. He was putting the ball on the floor, taking longer jumpers—but still mixing it up down low, too. He's got a more versatile skill set now, which makes him dangerous because it means he can play multiple positions."
Siakam plays with as much effort as anyone in this draft.
The sequence that everyone in basketball is talking about right now is the trail block LeBron James had in Game 7. I saw Siakam make a similar effort play, but this was at University of Missouri-Kansas City in February during a non-televised game.
New Mexico State guard Jayln Pennie shot a three-pointer from the left corner, and as Pennie was releasing the ball, Pascal was beyond the arc at the top of the key. By the time the shot hit off the rim and fell to the opposite side of the goal, Pascal was there for the putback.
|Age||22 (Born Feb. 4, 1994)|
|Team||New Mexico State|
|New Mexico State Athletics|
The guy plays every minute like he's battling for his job. That play at UMKC also spoke to his quickness. He can fly for a big man, and he's really quick off the floor. Combine that with his 7'2 ½" wingspan, and he's able to rebound outside of his area and also gets a lot of deflections on defense. Over NMSU's final 15 games, he had three or more steals four times.
Offensively, Siakam is at his best scoring around the basket, but he expanded his game this past year by adding a jumper. He made only three of them as a freshman, according to Synergy Sports, and he had much more confidence in his shot as a sophomore. He made 135-of-308 two-point jumpers during 2015-16, according play-by-play data at Hoop-Math.com.
"The main thing that impressed me on him was the fact that he made the big leap in improvement hitting the 12- to 15-foot jumper," a scout told B/R. "Last year, he was a guy that didn't shoot that shot, and now he's a guy who has a very good-looking jump shot."
Siakam gets a little out of control on both ends of the floor. On defense, he regularly over-extends—such as closing out too hard on a shooter—but he does have the quickness to recover and get back into the play.
Offensively, he has a tendency to take some difficult shots on the move, and he plays too sped up at times. Some of this can be attributed to the fact he hasn't played the game very long.
He's an interesting case study because of his age (already 22) and lack of experience.
"On one hand, he's a little older," a scout said. "There are certain things physically where he's closer to reaching his potential. On the other hand, he hasn't been playing very long so his experience and skill development leads to some upside. You just try to weigh those things together and look at the whole picture."
Siakam needs to add some strength and weight to hang at the NBA level, and there's hope he can do that. He arrived at New Mexico State at 190 pounds, and he told me in February he weighed 235. (He weighed 226.6 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine.)
NBA player comparison
It's hard to find a current player in the league who Siakam resembles. He is like a more-skilled version of Dennis Rodman, putting forth the same kind of relentless pursuit of the basketball as a long, rangy athlete. Rodman was arguably the greatest rebounder ever, and Siakam doesn't have the same level of rebounding instincts, of course, but few players do.
Siakam could go just about anywhere in the second round and maybe sneak into the first because of his upside and the allure of the unknown.
His motor and athleticism give him a chance to find his way into an NBA rotation during the next couple years. Obviously, he'd benefit from going in the first round because he'd get a guaranteed contract and a team invested in developing his game.
Patience certainly paid off at New Mexico State, as the Aggies focused on developing his skills during his redshirt year instead of throwing him into the fire before he was ready.
Siakam is a project, and he could be a draft-and-stash candidate, either heading to the D-League or overseas for up to a couple of years. He had to be a scorer at New Mexico State because he was by far the program's most talented player. But he projects as more of an energy guy in the pros, and it could take him some time to figure out that transition versus forcing his offense.
Once he learns his place, he has a chance to make it.
Trying to evaluate players like Siakam in leagues like the WAC is a definite challenge. Depending on when NBA teams saw him, they likely either fell in love or were skeptical because of the lack of competition. But he showed enough this past season to get drafted.
He's also the type who likely performed well in interviews. I was impressed with him when I interviewed him this past year. He comes off as a genuinely nice and humble guy, and anyone with his backstory is going to be extremely driven.
It's going to take some patience on his part, as the most likely route he'll take is spending most of the next few years in the D-League. But I'm convinced enough teams are interested in seeing what he can become that he'll hear his name called at the draft.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.