It looks like the LA Clippers have found their Montrezl Harrell replacement.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Serge Ibaka plans to sign a two-year, $19.0 million deal with the Clippers. The second season will reportedly include a player option, giving Ibaka the choice of becoming an unrestricted free agent again next offseason when more teams are expected to have cap space.
Free agent Serge Ibaka plans to sign a 2-year, $19M deal with the Clippers, source tells ESPN.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 22, 2020
This is a big loss for the Toronto Raptors and a tremendous pickup for the Clippers.
Outside of trading for someone, I'm not sure the Clippers could've found a better replacement this offseason for Harrell, who has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $19.0 deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. When I ranked the best centres available in this free agent class, I had Harrell first, Andre Drummond, who ended up opting into his player option for the upcoming season to stay out of free agency, second and Ibaka third. Getting him for the midlevel exception is a steal.
MORE: How much better does Harrell actually make the Lakers?
Like Harrell, Ibaka is known more for his offence than his defence at this stage of his career. He doesn't put as much pressure on teams at the rim as Harrell does - Harrell (934) scored more than twice the amount of points in the paint than Ibaka (438) last season - but Ibaka is a more versatile scorer. Not only can he finish in the paint, both in the restricted area and from floater range, he's one of the best midrange shooters and 3-point shooters at the centre position. According to NBA.com, only 10 centres made more shots from midrange and only 13 made more from the perimeter than Ibaka last season.
Ibaka's shooting will help the Clippers in a number of ways. First and foremost, it'll maximize spacing for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Clippers will now be able to close games with lineups that feature some combination of Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Luke Kennard, George, Leonard, Marcus Morris and Ibaka. All seven of them are legitimate 3-point shooters, which will open up the floor for Leonard and George to do what they do best - get buckets.
It helps that Leonard already has experience playing with Ibaka, as they were teammates on the Raptors in the 2018-19 season. According to NBA.com, Leonard set Ibaka up for 36 baskets that season, putting him behind Kyle Lowry (140), Fred VanVleet (70) and Pascal Siakam (46) for most on the team.
Ibaka gives Leonard someone he can run pick-and-rolls with...
...as well as someone he can kick out to when teams collapse on his drives.
The same goes for George, who generated just under half (44.3 percent) of his offence in pick-and-rolls and isolation last season.
Secondly, Ibaka gives Williams a dynamic pick-and-roll partner.
During their three years as teammates, Williams and Harrell formed one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the league. Again, Ibaka doesn't put as much pressure on the rim as Harrell does, but he can pop and roll at a high level. He ranked in only the 30th percentile with an average of 1.00 points per possession as the roll man last season, but that had more to do with him committing turnovers at a high rate (12.2 percent) and rarely getting to the free throw line (5.9 percent) than his ability to score, something I wrote about in more detail here.
Williams and Ibaka should make for a formidable pick-and-roll combination, much like Williams and Harrell did, which would take some of the playmaking burden off of Leonard and George in the regular season because it would allow the Clippers to continue playing bench-heavy lineups.
Even though he wasn't quite as efficient of a pick-and-roll scorer as Harrell, Ibaka (4.6) actually averaged more points per game as the roll man than Harrell (3.8) last season.
Finally, it gives the Clippers options.
According to NBA.com, Harrell and Zubac logged a total of seven minutes together last season. That number being as low as it is shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. In today's NBA where spacing comes at a premium, teams can't afford to play two players who aren't a threat to score outside of the paint. (Want to guess how many field goals Harrell and Zubac combined to make outside of the paint last season? 20. For comparison, Ibaka made 124 shots outside of the paint).
Ibaka is at his best when he's playing centre, but he's a good enough shooter to play power forward in bigger lineups. Whether or not playing Ibaka and Zubac together is something Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue goes to often remains to be seen, but it's something he can go to against teams that have size.
On the other end of the court, Ibaka is an upgrade over Harrell for the Clippers. He's not the defender he once was - Ibaka led the league in blocks twice and made three All-Defensive First Teams early in his career - but he's still a good team defender. More importantly for the Clippers, he's better equipped than Harrell to defend bigger centres, which will come in handy in the playoffs should they see Nikola Jokic and/or Anthony Davis.
All in all, this is a win for the Clippers. It's hard to imagine this being the best deal out there for Ibaka in free agency, but this gives him an opportunity to be a difference-maker on a team that could very well win the title this season. For that reason, it's not a surprise that he was drawn to them.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.