Woz Blog: Slumping Ibaka expands game and the results come

Photo of Woz Blog: Slumping Ibaka expands game and the results come

Serge Ibaka has looked more lively in recent games, no? Might it have something to do with his outside shot not falling (he had missed 16-of-17 from beyond the arc before going 3-for-4 against Indiana)? The theory here is he can get comfortable merely waiting to launch long jumpers, letting the rest of his game suffer, wasting his skills as a finisher at the rim and as a shot-blocker. But when the shots aren’t falling, it seems like Ibaka tries to do other things, and it works for him (such as attacking the rim, which he has done more frequently recently). His chasedown block was tremendous (as was the Indiana announcer knowing what was coming and chiding Bojan Bogdanovic for not throwing the ball ahead to Darren Collison for the easy layup). Even if it doesn’t look pretty all the time, an attacking Ibaka is a much better Ibaka.

Sticking with Ibaka, watch him defend the scorching hot Victor Oladipo late (do we need to add Oladipo’s name to the Raptor killer wall of fame yet?), even if his teammates let him down in the end.

Don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ibaka has led the Raptors in rebounding in each of the past two games.

Unfortunate news about Lucas Nogueira. Injuries continue to be his biggest issue. He has above average length, skills for a big man, basketball smarts/instincts and timing, but always seems to get hit with some sort of ailment. A torn calf muscle can sideline a player for anywhere from a few weeks to the rest of the season, depending on the severity (the Raptors didn’t describe the severity of the tear). If it is only a Grade 1 tear, Bebe could be back in two weeks. Judging by his history though, it will be longer. Grade 2 tears take 2-4 months to recover from, Grade 3 3-4, or more with surgery, according to Dr. Woz (actually, this is according to the web, which is never wrong!).

In any event, Jakob Poeltl is the long-term answer at centre in Toronto (barring a surprise deal down the line, of course) so this doesn’t change much, other than forcing the coaching staff to commit to playing Poeltl a good chunk of minutes every night, which isn’t a bad thing. As good as Nogueira has played at times and even though he’s the club’s best shot-blocker and its most big man with the greatest overall skill-set (passing, shooting, screen setting, finishing, etc.) he is a wild card, with his production ranging from across the board to nothing at all on any given night. With Poeltl, you know you’ll get the same things every night: switchability on defence, rebounding, good catching and finishing, but perhaps too many fouls and poor free throw shooting.

A few more observations:

Switching Jonas Valanciunas off of Myles Turner and onto Thaddeus Young and putting Ibaka on Turner was a smart adjustment. Turner is a brutal matchup for Valanciunas because of his speed and shooting touch. Young might be a great slasher, but he is a poor (if streaky) outside shooter, allowing Valanciunas to stay further back on him.

Kyle Lowry is on some kind of offensive role. He’s been one of the 10 best players in basketball over the past couple of weeks. If he keeps it up, a return to the All-NBA Third Team won’t be out of the question (though the guard situation is tough, with James Harden, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving looking like clear picks for the first two teams so far. That would mean Lowry, reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, Kemba Walker and others would fight it out for the final two spots. Not bad company to be in, regardless).

Why can’t officiating crews call a decent game between the Raptors and Pacers? I don’t have the answer, but the work these past two games has been nothing short of head shaking. Refs should watch the tapes of these contests and use the mistakes as teachable moments. There have been a lot of them.

That said, an important message for the Raptors that I am sure Dwane Casey and his staff are imparting: Be mentally tougher. Fight through the nonsense. If you are getting a bad whistle don’t pout, whine, let it get into your head and throw you back. These things are going to happen, especially against the top teams and in the playoffs. Just deal with it and fight through.

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#kyle lowry
#serge ibaka
#toronto raptors
#jakob poeltl
#lucas nogueira