Why Toronto needed to trade for Ibaka
Well… It finally happened. After what seems like a 2–3 year wait, the Raptors have made a move to acquire a true starting power forward who spend time as a small ball 5 and can stretch the floor. Serge Ibaka may not be the same defensive player that he was a few years ago, but his ability to stretch the floor has made him a more potent threat on offense than ever. Per 36 on a terribly spaced Orlando Magic team this season, Ibaka has been averaging: 17.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg on 49/39/84 shooting splits with a career high usage percentage of 21(never broke 20 before this season). Ibaka has had a revitalized year after a tough one in OKC last year. His rebounding and block stats have dropped a good amount since his early days, but injuries have happened and he plays away from the rim much more these days due to power forwards often having to defend the perimeter now. Despite everything, Ibaka is still one of the 15 or 10 best power forwards in the NBA. He stretches the floor, and not just by shooting the ball. From his time playing in OKC, he set a ton of hard screens for Durant and Westbrook, so for a team looking to increase floor spacing, Ibaka is a guy you could put at the top of the key as a boulder to split defenses. If you leave him open there, he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. His addition to the Raptors makes them a serious threat in the East, if they were not already.
The Raptors the past few years have been able to succeed in the regular season in comparison to the postseason mostly due to the depth of their roster. With a bench mob of Patterson, Bebe, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, and Norm Powell, the Raptors have been able to lean on these above average bench players and get extra wins by playing the differentials. Their bench against other benches is just scary. Other examples of this are the Celtics the past couple years, and maybe the most famous example is the Spurs who will lean on guys like Jonathon Simmons in random regular season game #63. With injuries and the level of talent in the regular season being so different, playing 12–13 guys a night is beneficial. Fresh legs win games in the regular season. The playoffs on the other hand is a different beast. Coaches only need to rely on about 7–9 core rotation players, and can heavily play the starters 37+ minutes a game with the amount of rest between games. That is where the Raptors starting line-up becomes a major problem.
I love Kyle Lowry, and even though I sometimes do not agree with the play-style of DeRozan, he’s easily on of the top 4 shooting guards in the NBA. As much as that duo is the identity of the Raptors, the distance in talent between those two and the best guard duos they would see in the playoffs in the East is not much. I think they are better than the pair of Thomas-Bradley, and especially better than Kyrie-JR with JR’s health in question. What scares and excites me is that Beal and Wall just might be not only more talented than them, but finally playing better. Those two have always been the sleeping giants of talent in the East, but they are finally pushing the ball in transition and showing off why they were hyped. I do think Lowry and DeRozan are much better players than the time they got swept, and I believe it when they say they were injured, but at their best they don’t really have any inches on the Wizards when it comes down to the guard holes. For the wing position, DeMarre Carroll just has been bad. It does not look like he will become Hawks DeMarre Carroll ever again, but that version of Carroll may also have been more of a system player than anything. The positive is that the younger Norman Powell is ready to fill the role, but the problem is that if your goal is to defeat the Cavs, Norm Powell cannot defend Lebron at all. The Raptors have two competent centers in Jonas Valanciunas and Bebe, but they have to be smart about when to use them, and not be afraid to pull their minutes randomly depending on the situation. Bebe is the far superior rim protector and is perfect for playing the same type of 4 out 1 in small ball they were running in the playoffs last year with Biyombo. While Val is their third scoring option post guy. Val has often been hyped as the 3rd star of the Raptors, but lately I get the feel he might not be the best center for the team’s long term future.
The power forward position has been the biggest question mark for this team the past few years. Last year they gave Luis Scola the spot start where he would play about 10–15 minutes, while Patrick Patterson would come off the bench and play close to 30 minutes a game. This year it has been a mix of rookie Pascal Siakam, rookie Jakob Poeltl, an injured and overweight Jared Sullinger, an attempted two center line-up with Val and Bebe, and what has been the best choice: just starting Patterson. The problem is that Patterson thrives in his role off the bench as the team’s swiss army knife that can hold down the power forward slot and cash in small minutes at the small forward and center positions. In totality, he also is average as a starter, but a 6th man of the year candidate of the bench. With the addition of Ibaka, the Raptors can now trot out a starting line-up of Valanciunas-Ibaka-Carroll-DeRozan-Lowry, which doesn’t net them a negative against the top tier teams in terms of talent. More important is that they remove the minutes where they are getting zero or negative output from their bad starting power forwards and being replaced by someone who is actually above average. Even more scary is that Ibaka adds to their versatility, a crunch time line-up of Patterson-Ibaka-Powell-DeRozan-Lowry, sounds like a flurry of speed, dribbles, and fun. After a trip to the Eastern Conference finals last season, not making it back would be a failure for the Raptors this season. It would be even worse to be passed up by younger teams in the Wizards and Celtics while your team flails. Serge Ibaka was needed for this final push, and he is perfectly accustomed to the 3rd option role — he thrived in it in OKC, but only struggled after they pushed him to the 4th, 5th, and 6th option. He actually may be better than Millsap for the Raptors, as he is more competent as a small ball center and they only had to give up Terrence Ross to get him.
I could make fun of the Orlando Magic for giving up a lottery pick, Victor Oladipo, and Ersan Ilyasova for Terrence Ross and a draft pick in the late first round, but that would be cruel for a team with a lot of fans who are probably kicking a hole in their walls currently. The bright side is they add a true wing who can fill the 3-D role and cut to the rim with great athleticism. Ross has been incredible this season off the bench and is finally becoming the player he is on NBA 2k. Aaron Gordon can be freed up to play power forward and this will space the floor better for Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier. The only bad part is that it means the Magic have probably given up on Mario Hezonja.