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Toronto Raptors

Marc Gasol vs. Serge Ibaka: The debate for who should start at centre

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Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol [NBA Getty Images]

Having two starting centers on your roster is a great problem to have, but deciding who should start, play the bulk of the game and close is another.

Nick Nurse has been staying coy in the media about whether or not Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol should become the full-time starter for the Raptors for the remainder of the season and ultimately the playoffs.

He's been using both situationally and at times that's worked, but with the playoffs now just 10 games away an answer must come sooner rather than later.

The case for Gasol

Marc Gasol has started nearly his entire NBA career. At his peak, he was one of the league's best centers. A three-time All-Star, 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, two-time All-NBA teamer - his resume speaks for itself.

You know what you're going to get from Gasol on a game-to-game basis - no matter the stage or the score, he will bring defence, ball movement and poise. Gasol isn't what he once was at his peak, the Raptors know that and Masai Ujiri knows that, but getting Gasol at the trade deadline was a move towards stability.

And that's something the Raptors haven't had much of this season. Only the 76ers have had as many starting lineup changes as the Raptors this year.

MORE: Evaluating Gasol's first month with the Raptors

Gasol has started nine games for the Raptors - they're 5-4 in those starts. While the record isn't anything to write home about, here's what really matters.

The Raptors have a net rating of plus-11.0 with the lineup of Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green on the floor.

That lineup also has a defensive rebounding percentage of 79%, effective field goal percentage of 66.1% and a true shooting percentage of 68% -- all highs for any Raptors lineup that's played at least 60 minutes together.

But Gasol's real value comes with his contagious ball movement. With Gasol in that aforementioned lineup, the Raptors have an assists percentage of 72% and they play at a pace of 109.6.

The team has been criticized from relying on Kawhi Leonard to create something out of nothing down the stretch of games - a valued cause for concern, especially when the defence tightens up in the postseason.

But with Gasol, the ball doesn't stick. His unselfishness is contagious and it makes the Raptors a bigger threat in the halfcourt, which is where Toronto will have to excel in the playoffs.

The case for Ibaka

Ibaka's resume isn't quite as impressive as Gasol's, but a two-time blocks champion and three-time All-Defensive teamer isn't anything to sneeze at.

While the defensive end has long been Ibaka's calling card, his offence has been the difference maker for Toronto this season. Ibaka's averages of 15.0 points and 8.1 rebounds on 52% shooting from the field has allowed the Raptors to open up a bit more on offence.

The lineup of Ibaka, Lowry, Siakam, Kawhi and Green have an offensive rating of 113.2 and a net rating of plus-8.3.

While that seems less effective than the lineup with Gasol, one thing the Ibaka lineup provides that no other Raptors' unit does is continuity. No lineup has played more minutes together this season than those five at 547 minutes.

The next closest has only played 187 minutes together.

There's not a number or stat to throw out there that proves chemistry, trust and familiarity, but if any group would have it amongst the Raptors' many different lineups, it's the starting unit with Ibaka in it.

No matter how you view things, that has to stand for something especially when you're competing for a championship.

The Verdict

If it was up to me, I'd have Ibaka start and Gasol be the closer.

Having those two important and defined roles could allow them to know what's expected of them every night out. Ibaka's energy and chemistry with the starting unit is valuable and Gasol's playoffs experience and poise is more important when the game is on the line than it is at the start of games.

Like a relay race, Ibaka can get the team off to a good start and hand the baton off to Gasol, who can close the show. Gasol would then have the trust that Ibaka would be giving him a reasonable situation and Ibaka would also know that he's put Gasol in a great position to secure a victory.

No matter where you stand on the matter, one thing's for sure: There needs to be a final decision and soon. The Raptors have been able to get by on a game-by-game basis and that's fine for the regular season, but the playoffs are different.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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