Masai Ujiri addressed his team’s biggest flaw by trading for Serge Ibaka. The Toronto Raptors now have the talent to be an Eastern Conference contender.
Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has made a power move. With the trade deadline nearing and the Raptors looking to overcome negative momentum, Ujiri has solidified the defense with a massive trade.
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According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Raptors have traded Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka.
Orlando has agreed to trade Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick, league sources tell @TheVertical.
Though Ibaka has been somewhat quiet with the Magic, this trade has legitimized Toronto’s status as an Eastern Conference contender.
The Raptors are currently 32-23 and in possession of the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. That isn’t necessarily a terrible place to be, but Dwane Casey’s crew has a losing record of 10-15 since improving to 22-8 on Dec. 26.
By trading for Ibaka, Toronto has both stopped the bleeding and vastly improved its talent level and overall balance.
Toronto was previously the frontrunner for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, its stretch of 15 losses in 25 games enabled the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Atlanta Hawks to pass it in the standings.
With just one move, Ujiri has effectively made his team a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
The Toronto Raptors are No. 5 in the NBA in points per game and No. 2 in points per 100 possessions. Thus, it’s fair to state that the Raptors don’t necessarily need another player who can help the team score.
Toronto relies upon its power forwards to provide spacing, however, and Serge Ibaka can do that with the additional benefit of elite defensive ability.
Ibaka is currently averaging 15.1 points, 1.8 offensive rebounds, and 1.5 3-point field goals made in 30.5 minutes per game. He’s doing so on a slash line of .488/.388/.846.
By starting Ibaka and bringing Patrick Patterson off the bench, the Raptors now have two of the best 3-point shooting power forwards in the NBA.
With Ibaka providing space as a midrange marksman and efficient 3-point shooter, driving lanes and post-up opportunities will be easier to find. He’s also an underrated pick and roll player who can finish at the rim, draw contact, and convert his free throws.
Toronto is already an elite offensive team, but adding Ibaka should only help it improve its execution in the half court.
The key to the addition of Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors is the immense defensive value he’ll provide. He’s a well-known shot-blocker who has the lateral quickness and defensive range to defend the pick and roll.
Jonas Valanciunas has been in dire need of a help-side defender who can alleviate pressure, and Ibaka can fill that role to perfection.
Valanciunas does many things well, but his slow feet have devastated the Raptors on the defensive end of the floor. Ibaka, meanwhile, is a two-time blocks leader and a three-time All-Defensive First Team honoree.
With his ability to switch on the pick and roll, as well as the fear he strikes as a rim protector, Ibaka should help Toronto make drastic improvements on defense.
Toronto currently ranks No. 11 in points allowed per game and No. 17 in points allowed per 100 possessions. It ranks a pedestrian No. 14 in points allowed in the paint per game and is allowing more contested field goals to be made at the rim than any team in the NBA.
Ibaka, DeMarre Carroll, and Kyle Lowry should rank amongst the best defensive trios in the NBA.
Nothing matters more to this equation than the addition of Serge Ibaka’s postseason experience. The Toronto Raptors made the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, but they did so in a way that leaves reason to be concerned.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been overwhelmingly inefficient during the playoffs, which signals the need for a veteran who can help stabilize their efforts.
Ibaka has appeared in 89 postseason games, making 83 starts. He played featured roles on Oklahoma City Thunder teams that made the NBA Finals in 2012 and reached the Western Conference Finals in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2016.
Ibaka has career postseason averages of 10.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks on a remarkably efficient slash line of .513/.427/.768.
Beyond the numbers, Ibaka has the toughness and defensive vigor to compete in a postseason setting. He welcomes physicality, isn’t afraid of committing a hard foul, and is the type of rim protector whom teams struggle to drive against in such settings.
Upsetting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be tough to do, but Toronto finally has the rim protector to give it a realistic chance of doing so.