Serge Ibaka Fits Seamlessly In Toronto

6/23/2016

Serge Ibaka during his tenure with the Magic. (AP)

Just under eight months ago the Orlando Magic traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to the 11th pick in the NBA draft, Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. In their effort to acquire Ibaka, the Magic gave away a young asset in Oladipo, and the draft rights of Sabonis. Again, another asset was moved. Although he didn’t factor much into the team’s future plans, Ilyasova is a solid stretch-4 (Career 37.01 3PT% going into ‘16-’17) on a team friendly contract (1-Year/$8,400,000). Just 56-games later, Ibaka will be putting on another team’s uniform.

2/14/2017

Terrence Ross is feelin’ it during a January 24th matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. (AP)

On the morning of February 14th, 2017 the Orlando Magic sent Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors for Terrence Ross and a 2017 1st round pick. Since being drafted 8th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, Terrence Ross has mainly been used as a spark-plug off the bench. He’s averaged 9.5 points per game in 23.3 minutes per game, and shot the 3-ball well since entering the league at 37.6 3PT% on 4.4 attempts per game. Those numbers translate to 23.4 points and 9.8 attempts per 100 possessions. Despite being a solid option offensively, Terrence Ross has struggled to defend consistently at the NBA level. Some question his motor, and overall ability to defend off the ball. His defensive rating of 106.1 and defensive box plus-minus of -1.3 point to the same issues as well. He likely isn’t a franchise building-block, but he’s signed through the 2018–2019 season, and with 25-games remaining in the season he will have more than enough time to show he’s worthy of starting alongside Evan Fournier long term.

The Aaron Gordon Experiment

With Ibaka now in a different uniform, the experiment using Aaron Gordon at the 3 appears to be over. The move will give them an extended opportunity to see just how good Gordon is. After some solid improvement between his 1st and 2nd NBA season, the 2016 NBA Dunk Contest runner-up has taken a step back this year.

Atlanta Hawks Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap can only look on as Aaron Gordon throws one down on top of them. (AP)

This season his VORP has fallen from 1.8 in ‘15-’16 to a measly 0.2 this season. Not only that, but he currently has the worst defensive rating of his career (107.7). For Gordon to have more success at the 4, he’ll also need to rebound much better than his current 9.1% clip. For some perspective, that’s down from 15.1% last year. Given his athleticism, you would definitely like to see him improve his offensive rebounding percentage of just 5.0. Playing closer to the basket, and presumably as the 2nd biggest player in the lineup should elevate his rebounding numbers, but his ability to rebound will be something to keep an eye on.

That 1st Rounder Though!

With the pick the Magic received, they’ll be looking at a pick at the back-end of the 1st round, likely in the 18–25 range. At that point in the draft you’ll usually find rotation players at best. Of course, they could find a diamond in the rough, and make that pick a complete steal, but the pick itself is not all that valuable.

What Does Ibaka Bring to Toronto?

“Give me five” Jonas Valanciunas, probably (AP)

When Ibaka joins the Raptors he’ll immediately give them another stretch-4/5 (38.8 3PT% on 3.8 attempts per game this season), and a player who can also protect the paint. Some will point to Ibaka allowing 60.8% of all shots within 5-feet to go in, which is up 54.3% last season, as a sign of decline. He currently is posting the worst defensive rating of his career at 108.1, but part of those numbers are likely due to the situation surrounding him. This season both Patrick Patterson and Jared Sullinger have missed 16 and 45 games, respectively. Throwing Ibaka into the mix gives them both an upgrade, and another body at the position.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this trade is the defensive flexibility it will give them. Assuming PatPat gets healthy, the Raptors will be able to close games against the Cavaliers (Or any 3PT/PnR team) with Lowry/DeRozan/Carroll/Patterson/Ibaka. Sending out this lineup will be essential against the Cavaliers who are 9th in the NBA in PnR ball handler points-per-possession at 0.88, and 8th in the NBA in PnR roll man points-per-possession at 1.10. Cleveland is also 3rd in the NBA in spot up points per possession at 1.08, so having a pair of bigs who can chase shooters out to the arc, and contest dribble-blow-bys on closeouts is going to be an asset to Toronto. Don’t get me wrong, the Lowry/DeRozan/Carroll/Patterson/Valanciunas lineup has been effective, posting a +26.8 net rating in 147 minutes this season, but swapping Valanciunas for the quicker Ibaka when the situation calls will only improve their ability to switch their match-ups.

Looking Ahead

Under his current contract Ibaka will remain with the Raptors until the end of the season. After that, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Those guys get PAID! With 26-games remaining in the regular season, and anywhere from 4–28 playoff games, the Raptors are looking at 30–54 games from Ibaka if he stays healthy. Once his contract is up, no matter the result of their season; they’ll have a decision to make. Do they re-up Ibaka on a similar deal to Dwight Howard (3-Years/$70,500,00), Ryan Anderson (4-Years/$80,000,000) and Jokim Noah (4-Years/$72,590,000), or do they let him walk for nothing? If they do resign him, the deal could come back to bite them, in a similar fashion to Noah’s deal, and Ian Mahinmi’s (4-Years/$64,000,000) did for their respective teams, but letting him walk brings them right back to where they are now, minus Ross/1st round pick. Ross and that 1st round pick aren’t the biggest assets in the world; however, giving that up for half a season of Ibaka is a net loss. Over the next fews months the Raptors will need to decide how they want to allocate their cap space over the next few seasons.

It’s been a difficult season for Ian Mahinmi. He’s only appeared in 4/54 of the Wizards’ games. (AP)

Win the East?

Deploying that lineup might be necessary to slow down Washington when they use Porter and Oubre at the forward positions (+7.4 net rating in 434 minutes), the Cavaliers when they roll with Love/Frye lineups (+3.2 net rating in 183 minutes), or dare I say it, the Warriors when they rock the death lineup 2.0 (+24.8 net rating in 211 minutes). Now the Cleveland Cavaliers are still the best team in the Eastern Conference, but with Love and Smith out for an extended time there’s definitely a window. This may only be a half-season rental for Toronto, or it may turn into an expensive long-term contract, but with core pieces aging and their place in the standings slipping; it was a move they needed to make.

All stats are from nba.com and basketball-reference.com.