It seems like Serge Ibaka is just getting better with time.
Big Bday shoutout to the Original Man, Ma Fuzzy Man, Mr. Avec Classe, straight from the Motherland, 100% pure.
Enjoy it, Champ! pic.twitter.com/cuoN06KTlj
– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 18, 2019
He might be getting up in age, but he hasn’t shown any sign of falling off just yet. In fact, last season was a resurgence in a sense for Ibaka, who posted his best numbers since 2014 with the Thunder.
In addition to less of a reliance on the 3-ball, last season’s stats suggest that Ibaka was helped by new coaching personnel and new teammates. While some could consider that a cause for concern after the departure of both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green via free agency, as Toronto moves on to its post-Kawhi era, it’s worth noting that some of Serge’s best performances last season came in Leonard’s absence.
Appearing in 20 of the 22 games that Kawhi missed, Ibaka averaged 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.9% from the field. Among those games were:
- A career-high 34 points (on 15-17 shooting) in a road win against the Lakers on Nov. 4.
- A perfect 8-8 shooting performance one night later in a Nov. 5 road win over the Jazz
- 25 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in a Dec. 11 road win over the Clippers
- 23 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 assists in a tight road loss to the Pacers
- An all-around performance (10 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists) in a win over the Wizards
- Putting up 23 points (on 10-16 shooting) and grabbing 12 rebounds in a road win in Chicago
Toronto was 16-4 in the aforementioned 20 games.
This isn’t to suggest that Serge or the Raptors will be better off without Kawhi this upcoming season, but there is evidence to support the notion that Ibaka can reprise – or improve upon – his role as a scorer in a year that Toronto will need to manufacture more offence.
Nick Nurse is still at the helm, as are the three players that contributed the most to Ibaka’s revival last season.
To be more specific, 375 of Ibaka’s 464 made field goals (80.8%) in the 2018-19 regular season were assisted (per NBA.com Stats), and no one set him up to score more than Kyle Lowry.
The five-time All-Star and Serge have displayed great chemistry in the pick-and-pop, part of what contributed to Ibaka being a 49.1% shooter from mid-range last year.
When VanVleet is the primary ball-handler, he and Ibaka thrive in transition in addition to those pick-and-pop situations.
Siakam, who is only going to continue to improve as a passer, will continue to draw the attention of defences as a driver, meaning Ibaka will continue to be a beneficiary.
To take it a step further, a total of 279 of Serge’s 375 assisted buckets (74.4%) came from players still on the roster when factoring in Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Patrick McCaw.
These opportunities should present themselves just as much in 2019-20, if not more.
While Ibaka’s 3-point shooting is down in volume and efficiency from earlier seasons, he’s still shown the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter – he knocked down two or more triples in 10 regular season games, hit a game-winner from beyond the arc, went 5-for-5 in a late-season win in Brooklyn and knocked down three crucial triples in the Raptors’ Game 7 win over the Sixers in the playoffs.
Serge’s love for the mid-range jumper makes him less reliant on his athleticism, yet he still runs the floor and makes big plays above the rim from time to time.
While averages would indicate that he isn’t the rim protector he once was, he still had 13 regular season games with three or more blocks and blocked six shots in the Raptors’ Game 3 win over the Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals. And the basic numbers don’t even take into account the number of shots that Ibaka alters.
According to NBA.com Stats, opponents shot 52.6% around the rim when defended by Ibaka, a mark that’s on par with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid and Myles Turner.
Working smarter is proving to pay dividends for Ibaka, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
In short, Serge’s game has – and will continue to – age well, and turning 30 is just another new beginning for the Raptors big man.
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