With the NBA season being suspended indefinitely, we're taking the next couple of weeks to roll out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of this season's team. The plan? Take a closer look at how everyone performed, from Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam to Terence Davis and Chris Boucher.
Next up: Serge Ibaka.
Most teams in the NBA would struggle if they were to lose their starting centre for almost half the season, especially one of Marc Gasol's calibre.
The Toronto Raptors aren't like most teams.
With injuries limiting Gasol to 34 games to this point of the season, the Raptors have leaned on Serge Ibaka more than they probably thought they would have had to coming into the season. How has he responded? By having one of the best seasons of his 11-year career.
REPORT CARDS: Pascal Siakam | Kyle Lowry | Fred VanVleet | OG Anunoby
Through 50 games, Ibaka is averaging a career-best 16.0 points per contest. His previous career-high was 15.1 points per game, set back in 2013-14 when he was still with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged a similar amount of points last season (15.0), but he's been a more efficient scorer this season, shooting 51.8 percent from the field, 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 74.8 percent from the free-throw line, the combination of which gives him the second-highest true shooting percentage (.593) of his career.
Ibaka's stats are boosted by what he has done in the games he's started in place of Gasol. He's still delivered as a reserve, but he goes from averaging 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists when he comes off the bench to 18.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game when he starts.
For perspective, there are only five centres currently posting at least 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season. Four of those players - Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Vucevic - were named All-Stars either this season or last season. The fifth - Deandre Ayton - was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
In other words, Ibaka has been producing at a similar rate as some of the best players at his position in the games he has started in this season.
It would be one thing if Ibaka was putting up those numbers in losses, but the Raptors have won 19 of the 27 games he's started in. He's been a big reason why they've been able to stay afloat despite being one of the most injury-ridden teams in the league, giving the Raptors a much-needed scoring punch in the frontcourt alongside Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam.
According to NBA.com, that trio has assisted Ibaka on over half of his baskets this season. He's complemented the three of them perfectly; Lowry and VanVleet as a shooter and a high volume screener and roller, Siakam as a safety valve for when teams load up on him.
Ibaka's shining moment this season came during Toronto's franchise-best 15-game winning streak. In a victory over the Indiana Pacers, he finished with a season-high 30 points, making him the team's second-leading scorer behind Lowry, who led the way with 32 points.
Ibaka also hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to cap off an 11-0 run and give the Raptors the lead.
You can probably guess who assisted him on that play.
The Raptors were down 118-108 with 2:27 left.- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 6, 2020
They ended the game on an 11-0 run to win, capped off by this game winner from Serge Ibaka 🔥 pic.twitter.com/eF4y06lTcX
Ibaka having the season he has had couldn't have come at a better time, both for the Raptors and himself personally. With this being the final year on his contract, he's set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he's now widely considered to be one of the best free agents available.
Some of that has to do with it being a weak class - particularly for his position - but Ibaka has set himself up for another payday with his play this season.
Whether that payday comes from the Raptors remains to be seen. He's made it known that he doesn't want to leave Toronto, but there's a chance that he's priced himself out of the team's plans if the Raptors are intent on keeping their books open for the summer of 2021 when you-know-who could hit the market.
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