TORONTO — Pascal Siakam is returning the court ahead of schedule -- but it's not a moment too soon for the Toronto Raptors' all-star forward.
Six months since he last played a game, Siakam will make his season debut against the visiting Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, fully recovered from his off-season shoulder surgery.
"I can't wait," Siakam said after Saturday's practice. "It definitely sucked just being there watching."
Siakam, who averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists last season, had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in June.
The Raptors started 6-4 without him.
The 27-year-old has participated in full-contact practices all week, and said his shoulder is "good."
Coach Nick Nurse said "he's probably going to be fairly limited in his minutes" while he works back into top game shape. Nurse hadn't determined whether Siakam will start or come off the bench.
"I know that my conditioning is probably not at the level that I want it to be," Siakam said.
Nurse had said Friday night that Siakam's return was imminent, but predicted it would happen next week.
His return is good news for a rebuilding team that has defied many pre-season expectations, winning its first four road games for the first time in franchise in history. The Raptors had won five straight before a 102-101 loss to Cleveland on Friday.
"If he can provide (better spacing) and he gets back to his 35, 38 per cent three-point shooting along with his size and length defensively . . . his up-the-floor game, rebounding, all that stuff," Nurse said. "I think that's what I'm probably most excited about now is it gives us another really good defending wing in that rotation."
Nurse looks forward to having Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes guarding Nets stars Kevin Durant and James Harden on Sunday.
"You've got some size and some foot speed and . . . good defenders all of them, so it's nice to have one more out there for sure," he said.
Siakam believes he improved during the layoff. He's been working out twice a day for more than a month.
"It's been consistently being in the gym," he said. "And it's been obviously fun, but I think it'd be even more fun when I walk out on the floor."
He credits the time he's spent with assistant coach Earl Watson for changing the way he sees his game.
"Working with Earl, we watch a lot of different people. He would just randomly send me videos and the next day we would come in and talk about it and work on it on the court and just seeing different things," Siakam said. "He is just opening my eyes to things I probably didn't even see. It's been great. Just continue to learn and hopefully that translates onto to the court."
While being stuck on the sidelines hasn't been fun, Siakam is pleased with how the team has fared without him, and is optimistic about the season.
"Offence is going to come, we're gonna figure out each other, we're gonna get better," he said. " But the level of attention to details on defence and making sure that we use our length and all that is going to be what's going to make us tough to play. And that's what we want to be. I love that.
"Everyone's just doing their jobs . . . and it's fun to watch. Obviously, we got to get better. But just everything that I'm seeing, I like it, I'm excited. Obviously I'm animated on the bench. If it was boring I would just sit there."
Siakam said he could have spent another week practising before his return, but since the team's game schedule is so busy, they're not full practices anyways, "so might as well get on the court, try to work it out there, go out there and run," Siakam said. "And I think that's the best conditioning anyways."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2021.
The Canadian Press