On Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors traded Terrence Ross and a first round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka. A trade that on paper, seems to be a good fit for both teams but the Raptors need this to be a home run deal. The Raptors are currently 7 games back in the 5 spot in a mediocre Eastern Conference. Last year, the Raptors forced a 6 game series against Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers but they haven’t shown much growth as a team since that series. DeMar DeRozan is having a career year and Kyle Lowry is still one of the top point guards in the league but it takes a team to beat Lebron, not two players. They no longer seem like a team that can compete with the Cavaliers, and they may not make it back to the Conference Finals.
The Raptors have proven themselves to be a good team that is capable of winning big playoff games but they have glaring weaknesses. They have no interior defensive presence on their roster. Before the Ibaka trade, the team leader in blocks was Lucas Nogueira with 1.7 blocks per game. Nogueira is still a raw prospect that is only seeing around 20 minutes per game. No team in the league is intimidated by Nogueira’s presence and teams have beaten the Raptors this year and last year by attacking the rim.
Now enter 3x All-NBA Defensive First Team player, Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has averaged 2.4 blocks per game over his career and is capable of changing team’s strategies with his defensive presence. However, there are question marks about Ibaka because he is only averaging 1.5 blocks a game this season. Ibaka’s defensive decline can be attributed directly towards his contributions on the offensive end of the court. In Orlando, they were trying to make Ibaka a player that he is not. They wanted him to be 20 point per game player that they could run their offense through but that’s not using Ibaka to his fullest. When Ibaka burst on to the scene in Oklahoma City he was playing alongside, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. All of those guys are ELITE offensive players in the NBA; so, Ibaka was asked to carry the team on the defensive end. He thrived in this role, averaging over 3 blocks a game in two of his seasons in Oklahoma City. When he focuses on his defensive role he is a force to be reckon with.
This trade gives the Raptors exactly what they desperately need to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference but they still need Ibaka to buy into his old role of being a defensive specialist. In his time in Orlando, he was given the green light to shoot whenever he felt and that is not what the Raptors need. Toronto has to start making strides towards improvement because they are sliding back in the seeding and; unfortunately, they still have to play the King, Lebron James.
Photo Credit via Keith Allison