The NBA’s yearly end-of-season awards often come with murky explanations behind winners of Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, and, most prominently, the Most Valuable Player. After all, how do define most “valuable”?

In the case of the current second-place Eastern Conference franchise Toronto Raptors—the 2018-19 NBA champions—Cameroonian forward Pascal Siakam epitomizes the “value” needed to push his team into the next gear.

Especially with the 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard gone (the two-time Defensive Player of the Year jumped shipped and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason), last year’s MIP in Siakam has taken a greater leap this season, signaling possibly more hardware for his trophy shelf in 2020.

The Raptors are 15-4, they’re top five in both offensive and defensive rating (second-best net rating behind Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks), and Siakam is Toronto’s leading scorer.

The fourth-year power forward is averaging 25.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in 36.8 minutes per game, appearing and starting in all 19 games for Toronto thus far while shooting 47.0% from the field, 39.0% from deep, and 81.1% from the free throw line. Additionally, Siakam sports a 56.8% True Shooting percentage and a 53.2% efficient field goal percentage.

In short, the Raptors, the NBA’s reigning champion club, look better than ever without Leonard and with the ever-improving Siakam, who has taken on a greater role on the team without the new Clipper (and doubly in All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry’s absence due to a thumb injury).

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To be objective, some weaknesses to Siakam’s MVP argument are: he already has a tremendous supporting cast in players like Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and so on; he’s not even top 10 in the NBA’s Player Impact Estimate (14.3) stat or the more traditional Player Efficiency Rating (20.3); and generally Siakam isn’t necessarily being his better self but being tasked with doing more (with no more Leonard, for example).

None of these reasons should dissuade chatter around Siakam’s legitimate chances at MVP this season, however. Siakam isn’t particularly more efficient this season, but he’s doing more for the Raptors and keeping them more than well-afloat with Kawhi gone.

“Spicy P” is both a product of second-year head coach Nick Nurse’s well-oiled Raptors offense as much as he’s now the operator of said machine. The extremely efficient Toronto offensive attack is relatively balanced around multiple players, yet Siakam still stands out, scoring better than he did two years ago or even last year during his MIP season.

It’s impossible to entirely disregard what the 25-year-old is doing this season because he doesn’t put up the same scoring numbers (James Harden), or nearly average a triple-double before legally drinking in the U.S. (Luka Doncic), or “freak” people with insane athleticism (Giannis Antetokounmpo). Siakam instead continues to get better and has improved a champion club people had written off before October because Kawhi Leonard left.

They forgot to mention, however, that a new, better Pascal Siakam had arrived, too.