What Serge Ibaka brings to the Raptors
By Trevor Knapp
With the NBA trade deadline looming the Toronto Raptors made a big move Tuesday, shipping the exciting but inconsistent Terrence Ross and a 2017 first rounder to Orlando and snagging power forward Serge Ibaka.
The pick is the lower of the two the Raptors own this year, between their own and the Los Angeles Clippers’ top-15 protected draft pick.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has been linked to Ibaka for a while, and it was ultimately a matter of time before the 27-year-old Congo native was bound to rep Canada’s team.
Ibaka has averaged 15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks through 56 starts this season. He can give you 30+ minutes a night, and also carries a boatload of playoff experience that dates back to 2011 with Oklahoma City.
Serge Ibaka is not Paul Millsap. But this is still a solid upgrade for a team who is currently in a deep funk, and dropped from 2nd place in the East to 5th within a week.
Four and six in their last 10 and coming off blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead to the Pistons at home on Sunday, the Raps locker room seemed to feel the walls caving in.
The Raptors have struggled massively at the power forward position this season with the first-half absence of Jared Sullinger, and the ongoing ailments that have more recently affected Patrick Patterson.
Ibaka is a multi-dimensional defensive presence in the starting five that this team has been lacking. The 6'10 four is able to contribute on the offensive end and stretch the floor with an underrated touch beyond the arc.
In fact, Ibaka is shooting a career best 38% from three this season.
His real value, however, is at the other end where the Raptors have been lost for most of the year and where the three-time All-Defensive First Team member brings rim protection and a physicality that his team requires.
Ibaka is one of the best shot contesting bigs in the game, and is a block specialist. He led the NBA in total blocks in four consecutive seasons from 2010–2014.
Given that Jonas Valanciunas is a total liability defensively, expect Ibaka to clean up some of the lapses and brain farts that JV makes in the paint.
Add in the fact that Ibaka has experience playing with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and you have a rare talent who will accept his role without argument behind the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan.
Losing Ross hurts Toronto a little considering he was finally maturing as a player and embracing his role coming off the bench, but the rise of Norman Powell diminishes that narrative by a ton.
Moving Ross and the $10.5 million that he’s owed for the next two seasons should make it easier to ink an extension with Ibaka who enters free agency this offseason.
Last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors couldn’t adjust properly when the Cleveland Cavaliers went with a small ball lineup of Love and Frye on the court at the same time.
Expect to see Ibaka and Patterson as your small ball front-court to close out big games.
For now, a versatile much-needed add has been checked off the list.
The questions remains: is Masai done dealing, or is this just the beginning?