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Serge Ibaka Traded From Bad Fit To A (Maybe) Less Bad Fit
Smigoversen
February 14, 2017

Serge Ibaka is a fine player in the National Basketball Association. In 7 seasons in Oklahoma City he has averaged 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. After earning significant minutes in his second season, the Congolese born PF averaged nearly 3 blocks (2.95 to be exact), 11.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game over the next four seasons. By 2013 the Thunder had the fiercist rim protector in the league who could also drain 18 foot jumpers. It wasn't unreasonable to think that Ibaka would be a more important piece to the franchise than James Harden. At the time.

 

Since then, Ibaka's game has plateau'd. Despite playing more minutes per game, his rebounding and blocked shot numbers went down without an increase in scoring average. There were a lot of factors that influenced this but in my opinion the most important was Ibaka adding a perimeter element to his game. Starting in 2014, Ibaka's 3 point attempts jumped from under one per game to 3+. Also in 2014 his rebounding numbers fell to their lowest since his sophomore season and decreased further in subsequent seasons.

 

Every team wants a big man who can shoot threes, but for every Marc Gasol who added thre three ball to his game this season without sacrificing his defensive impact or rebounding numbers there are 7 or 8 players like Serge whose game suffer as a consequence of their extended range. Unfortunately for Ibaka, he was being pushed further out to the perimeter each season due to the development of Steven Adams (the only real asset to emerge from the Harden trade) and the acquisition of Enes Kanter from the Jazz in 2015. Neither player has much of a jump shooting game so they were allowed to play near the basket while Ibaka stands in the corner trying to create space.

 

By the end of the 2016 Playoffs, it was clear that Ibaka was the odd man out in the Thunder's big rotation. Kanter averaged 8.1 rebounds per game and those minutes came at the expense of Ibaka's playing time. When the Orlando Magic's GM Rob Hennigan came calling offering Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the No. 11 pick, Sam Presti hung up laughing. When Hennigan called back to say he was serious, Presti finished the paperwork faster than Donald Trump thinks it takes a Syrian refugee to be admitted into the country. The Thunder got an upgrade at shooting guard, a rookie forward in Domantas Sabonis, and if Kevin Durant had stuck around he could have spent more time at the 4.

 

After trading for a defensive big man with a versatile offensive game, Hennigan went out and signed a less skilled defensive big man that couldn't hit an uncontested lay up on an eight foot rim (Bismack Biyombo) to add to his mismatched roster. Offensively graceful, defensively disastrous center Nikola Vucevik, a Rondo acolyte without the Hall of Fame teammates and a worse jumper Elfrid Payton, a power forward forced to play the three Aaron Gordon, and a bunch of veterans on their last stop before retirement.

 

Many in the basketblogger community were hoping this season would see Aaron Gordon sliding down to the 4 full time to pair with Vucevik or whichever of the Magic's trio of big men emerged as their best option. Instead, the Magic's season has been a disaster. Just like every season since Dwight Howard took off for Los Angeles has been. Now Hennigan has pulled the plug on the Ibaka experiment after a mere 56 games and shipped him up north to Toronto.

 

The haul Ibaka fetched the second time around was significantly more underwhelming than what the Thunder received. Terrance Ross and a first round pick. While it's exciting that the third best dunker in Toronto history has gone from Toronto to Orlando, this doesn't make the team better in any way.

 

Terrance Ross is a replacement level player. His Box Plus/Minus (a measurement of his on court impact if put on an average team) is 0.0 (zero.zero). While it's always nice to get a first round pick, the Raptors are one of the better teams in the East. This pick will land somewhere in the mid-20's. That's significantly worse than the pick the Magic gave up to acquire Ibaka. Even if Sabonis is Jan Vesely 2.0, the No. 11 pick has more value than any pick at the back of the first round regardless of how much stronger this year's class is projected to be. The Magic have continued their tradition of turning assets into less good assets (Tobias Harris) but on the flip side, this is a pretty solid deal for the Raptors.

 

Patrick Patterson is the most important big man on the Raptors roster. This is because of his ability to defend and shoot outside of the paint. Serge Ibaka is better at Patterson at both of those things. Now the Raptors have the ability to pair Patterson with another big who can compliment his skillset instead of forcing him to work around their limitations. Jared Sullinger was not going to be the answer for the Raptors at PF. Now Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan will have more room to operate in the mid-range and near the basket.

 

The major downside for the Raptors is Ibaka's impending free agency. While the price they paid is not exorbinant for a rental, management probably wants to retain him. Unfortunately they have another major free agent: Kyle Lowry. Lowry is in line to make $35M/year with his new deal and given the market Ibaka could command as much as $30M/year as well. The cap is projected to be $122M next season. Can a championship contender really have half of their capital invested in B+/A- talent in addition to DeMar Derozan's hefty deal ($27M/year). One of these three players are going to have to go, in my opinion it should be Derozan because of his inefficient shot selection. But he's the most popular player on the team so that's not going to happen.

 

If the Raptors can break through the East and win a championship this all becomes moot, and with news of Kevin Love's latest surgery that has become slightly more possible. All in all this is a solid win-now move for the Raptors and the latest move in a long line of head scratchers from Orlando.

Smigoversen is the Master of Words and Protector of the Realm of Dudefest.com

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