Is Serge Ibaka the answer for the struggling Raptors?

It’s the news we have all been waiting for. It was obvious that Masai Ujiri was not going to sit on his hands as his team crumbled over the past month and a half. The Toronto Raptors have acquired power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round draft pick.

He was up to his old tricks, stiff arming the Magic into making the deal.

Ibaka has been a player on Ujiri’s radar for some time now. The Congolese forward shares an African connection with Masai, and fits the bill of a stretch power forward that can defend. This season, he averages 15.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG. and 1.5 3PM.

Trying to understand how Ibaka will fit in with this team? Look no further than Patrick Patterson. Ibaka has turned into a three point threat, with a solid offensive presence. He’s an average positional rebounder, and an above average man to man defender. The fit is certainly there, and he will fill a hole that has been gaping for quite some time with the Patterson injury.

However, Ibaka scores lower than Patterson in pretty much all advanced stat categories. His impact for an inferior Magic team was undeniable, however expecting All-Star production is not reasonable. It’s also possible that this is only a short-term bandaid, as Ibaka is an expiring contract and will likely demand upwards of 20 million dollars this offseason. The Raptors will have his bird rights, however will have to pay up.

Then there’s the question of his age. Age fraud is a common practice among foreign players. While there is no tangible proof of this, he’s 27 years old – which would be considered the prime of his career. And yet, it’s clear that his athleticism has taken a step back. The most evident statistic of this would be the fact that he used to be an elite rim protector, blocking 3.7 shots per game. That number is down to 1.6 this season. I’m not saying this is true, but it’s certainly a real possibility.

Regardless, no matter how you swing this deal, the Raptors are coming out of it a better team. Ibaka will fit in as a steady, consistent hand alongside Lowry and DeRozan. Norman Powell is now the first man up off the bench, and you can bet he has been waiting for the opportunity for regular minutes. The issue of three-point spacing will be there however, as Ross was the team’s best three point shooter after Kyle Lowry. The hope is that one of Patterson or Ibaka will be on the floor at all times to ensure adequate spacing, but it will be important for Norm and Cory Joseph to hit threes. Is this core enough to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals? That remains to be seen. However, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

With the big domino falling, it is possible that Masai strikes again. Stay tuned.

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