Woz Blog: Serge Ibaka filling third star role for Raptors

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DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are clearly Toronto’s best players, but the team has blossomed this season in large part because of the democratization of the team. Giving others more to do has sparked something as they have risen to the challenges. As is usually the case, team ball has led to a far better all-around group, one that projects to be more of a post-season threat.

We’ve been over the bench many times and the brilliance of DeRozan over and over, so today’s focus is Serge Ibaka. To be relevant in today’s NBA, you need a third star and Ibaka is playing at an extremely high level. Against Brooklyn Ibaka made some game-saving plays. Dwane Casey wasn’t happy with how the team was switching on defence during the game, saying they need to talk more, but that’s not really an issue for Ibaka as he covers for mistakes by his teammates better than anybody on the roster. He emphatically swatted away Tyler Zeller on the first Brooklyn possession of the game, setting a tone.

Ibaka was everywhere, blocking six shots and changing a few others. Most notably, his rejection of a Spencer Dinwiddie attempt at the rim late after the opposing point guard had repeatedly bolted right past his initial defender for easy dunks or layups was crucial.

Ibaka also hauled in 12 rebounds on a night where only he, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry did passable work for the Raptors on the boards. Rebounding is one of the things Ibaka isn’t great at, but lately he’s been doing an excellent job of getting rebounds at important times. He might only average 6.2 a game (before Tuesday’s back-t0-back closer against Miami), but everyone loves youngsters Kristaps Porzingis (6.8 rebounds per game) and Myles Turner (6.2), who are both studs, but Ibaka does similar work on the glass.

Ibaka is also fourth in the East in blocks per game, is shooting a solid 50/37/76 (field goal/three-point/free throw percentage) as a stretch big man. He sits in the Top 10 in the conference in plus/minus (DeRozan leads all and OG Anunoby and Kyle Lowry also rank way up) and trails only Al Horford and Joel Embiid amongst big men in that category. All of this is also taking into account that Ibaka had a really slow start to the year (including 29% shooting from beyond the arc and 50% shooting at the line in November). He’s turned it around and is helping to carry the Raptors.


Kenny Atkinson and his staff have done a tremendous job in getting Brooklyn’s turnaround going. They play hard. The game never should have been as close as it was, but the Nets wouldn’t stop coming and the Raptors didn’t match that intensity. The Lowry injury never would have happened had they shut the door earlier.

Atkinson described DeRozan as a “four-man playing the two” because of his size, strength and ability to create separation. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been strong for the Nets and he did as good a job as anybody has recently on DeRozan when he guarded him.

Not sure why DeRozan went away from the passing game that worked so well early on, but it was a mistake. He was picking Brooklyn apart and making life easy for himself and for his teammates. The pick-and-(delayed) pop, behind the back pass leading to a Jonas Valanciunas three was absurd.

Speaking of the big man, not sure I can remember the entire team looking for Valanciunas more in a single game than they did in this one. They were force-feeding him the ball through three quarters, making him the clear second option. Of course he rightly sat for most of the fourth as defensively he was not a good match for the Nets (many have quibbled about not having him in for rebounding purposes late, but he wouldn’t have been the right call and Pascal Siakam’s massive offensive issues limit the ability to say he’d have been/was the right call late either).

While rewatching, this time on a Nets feed, noticed the Nets crew rave about Toronto’s length inside. It’s a good point. There’s Ibaka, an elite shot-blocker, Valanciunas a gigantic human being who knows how to use the verticality rule, Lowry, who has mastered it, Siakam, Bebe, Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright coming out of nowhere. This is not an easy group to score against inside (unless they are wide open, like Dinwiddie was so often).


1 – DeMar DeRozan

2- Serge Ibaka

3 – Spencer Dinwiddie

With apologies to Allen Crabbe, Jarrett Allen, Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas

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