By Leo Silbert
The Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors have agreed to a deal that sends Serge Ibaka to the Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first round pick. The Magic didn’t believe that they had a good shot at retaining Ibaka this summer and Ibaka had concerns over how he was being used in Orlando so it makes sense for both of those parties to part ways. Now the Magic bring in a young wing player in Terrence Ross which should move Aaron Gordon to power forward full-time so the Magic may have done very well here, but how much does this improve the Raptors chances of challenging the Cavaliers, Celtics and Wizards for the East?
First thing that this will look to improve is the Raptors defense. Ibaka for most of his career has been one of the best shot blockers in the league, as he is the active leader in blocks per game. In the blocks category, the Raptors rank as an average team, but now with the addition of Ibaka, they can start him and give fewer minutes to Patrick Patterson, which if you take their current per game averages, would push the Raptors up to second in the league, only trailing the Warriors. An increase of 1.5 blocks per game on average could have great effects on a team’s defense and give more freedom to the wing players to play aggressive defense since they know they’ll have a shot blocking presence down low to pick up the slack if their man gets into the paint. The Raptors would also increase their rank in field goal percentage against since Ibaka is one of the 5 best rim protectors in the league.
Next, he would help to increase the team rebounding. Ibaka will never be a 10 rebound per game guy, and that isn’t what the Raptors brought him over to do since they already have Jonas Valanciunas to be their top rebound man. Ibaka would bring good skills as a secondary rebounding big though which the Raptors need as they rank 23rd in the league in total rebounds. His rebounding ability will help the Raptors posses the ball more often and put it in the hands of their 5th ranked scoring offense more often.
Speaking of the Raptors’ offense, losing Ross as their 6th man hurts, but DeMarre Carroll puts up similar numbers across the board so he may get more minutes per game as well as increased minutes for Cory Joseph and Norman Powell in 3 guard lineups where either the Raptors keep both Valanciunas and Ibaka in for defense, or have Ibaka and Patterson in for a pace oriented and spread out offensive juggernaut. Ibaka is also an excellent shooter for 3 so any concerns of decreased floor space with Patterson on the bench would be without merit.
So now how much is this likely to help the Raptors improve their chances this season? Well since the Raptors have been in a funk recently and this is the kind of move that can greatly change how a team plays game in and game out, he could potentially bring them back all the way to the 2 or 3 seed, maybe even the 1 if the Cavaliers go through another rough patch.