Pascal Siakam confidently launches shots he may not have dared attempt in previous seasons. He makes plays during times of the game when he would have been sitting on the bench.
The Toronto Raptors forward might be the leading candidate for the most improved player award and he'd like to win it. But he's already received recognition that means more to him.
Fellow players have noticed how much work he's put in and how much it has paid off this season. The acknowledgement from All-Stars such as Paul George and Bradley Beal shows that Siakam's giant leap has caught the attention of more than just the media panel that votes for the NBA awards.
"I just enjoy sometimes after the games, guys coming up to me and showing respect for me. That's the most important thing," Siakam said. "Like, I don't care about the rest. I think when your peers respect your game and respect the fact that they've seen you work, I think that's more important."
There's a lot for them to have noticed, including:
• Siakam's scoring. It is up from 6.0 points per game through his first two seasons to 17.0 this season.
• His 3-point shooting. That's jumped from 21.6 percent to 36.8 percent.
A player who was feared almost entirely for his work around the basket now has to be accounted for even when he's away from it. Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson called Siakam an X-factor who now demands a much bigger part of the scouting report.
"It changes because he's shooting the ball better," Atkinson said. "I think at first you could ignore his shot. Now it's like you've got to respect him from 3 and I know he's worked on it extremely hard, so that changes it.
"You could be in the paint, wait for his drives. You still have to respect [that] but I think he keeps getting better and better."
D'Angelo Russell, Atkinson's All-Star point guard, might be the other top candidate for most improved player after leading the Nets to a surprising playoff berth. Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, Denver's Malik Beasley and the Clippers' Montrezl Harrell are some other players worthy of consideration.
But of them, Siakam has the biggest role on the team with the best chance to be playing into June.