Ibaka trade fills a glaring need for the Raptors

(Courtesy of USA Today)

(Courtesy of USA Today)

TORONTO- The Toronto Raptors have finally made a big splash prior to the NBA Trade Deadline. The Raptors acquired power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for SG Terrence Ross and a 2017 1st round pick.

The Raptors struggled mightily, losing ten of the last fourteen games and slipped to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Ibaka averaged 11.9 points 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks throughout his career. The 27-year old played his first six seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and played very well behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Ibaka was traded to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis during the NBA Draft last June. He is averaging 15.1 points 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks this season.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman coveted on Ibaka for quite a while and finally they get the player that they wanted all along. This trade fills a huge and glaring need for the team that is trying to catch up with the Cleveland Cavaliers. All year long the Raptors had been looking to upgrade at the power forward position. With the addition of Ibaka, the Raptors get an athletic big man who can rebound, block shots and be more effective on offense to take pressure off of Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Ibaka can stretch the floor and is a very good three-point shooter. He shot a career 36.5 percent from downtown.

Ross has been inconsistent throughout his career. However, the twenty-six year old is shooting a career best at 44.1 percent on the floor and 38 percent behind the three. With Ross gone, this gives the opportunity for Norman Powell to extend his minutes. Powell is a better two-way player than Ross and can provide athleticism and potential to be an impact player.

Keep in mind that Ibaka is a free agent to be. However the Raptors also acquired the Early Birds Rights for Ibaka, which give the Raptors an advantage to resign their recent acquired big man. This means that it is possible that the Raptors could resign both Ibaka and Lowry without hurting their salary cap.

Right now, the Raptors are a much better team than they were twenty-four hours ago. Now it is up to the Raptors to build a momentum going forward. Look for them to make a big push for the 2017 NBA Championship.

 

2015-2016 Toronto Raptors Season Preview

(Courtesy of Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

(Courtesy of Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

2015-2016 Season Record:

Season Record: 49-33 (1st in the Atlantic Division and 3rd in the Eastern Conference)

Additions:

DaMarre Carroll (Free Agent, Atlanta Hawks)

Bismack Biyombo (Free Agent, Charlotte Hornets)

Cory Joseph (Free Agent, San Antonio Spurs)

Anthony Bennett (Free Agent, Minnesota Timberwolves)

Delon Wright (Draft)

Norman Powell (Draft)

Subtractions:

Amir Johnson (Free Agent, Boston Celtics)

Landry Fields (Free Agent)

Lou Williams (Free Agent, L.A. Lakers)

Chuck Hayes (Free Agent)

Tyler Hansbrough (Free Agent)

Greg Stiemsma (Free Agent)

Luke Ridnour (Free Agent)

Season Review:

Over the past two seasons, the Toronto Raptors netted two Atlantic Division titles and two-franchise record win totals (48 and 49 respectfully). However, they also failed to make it out of the first round as well.

The Raptors were the third best in offensive efficiency, but they were 23rdon defense efficiency. But defense wasn’t only reason that for the Raptors’ disappointing finish. After started the season 24-8, the team wasn’t the same when Kyle Lowry was sideline with a back injury and struggled after the all-star break. The Raptors finished the season 19-21 over the last 40 games of the regular season. Their first round exit last postseason wasn’t shocking but it did leave a sour taste to their bitter end.

After being swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round of last postseason, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri emphasized on the importance of defense.

Here is a position by position breakdown for the 2015-2016 Toronto Raptors:

Point Guards:

Prior to the All Star Break, Kyle Lowry made a case for being one of the best players in the eastern conference. The 29-year old point guard averaged 18.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, while being named as a starter for the Eastern Conference All Star Team. Shortly after the all-star break, Lowry missed 11 games with a lower back injury and his production dropped dramatically. Lowry struggled during the playoffs as he shot 32 percent on the field.

Canadian Cory Joseph was brought in as a free agent to be Lowry’s back up. During his 14 starts with the San Antonio Spurs, Joseph averaged 13.2 points a game. He can attack the rim, find open teammates and shoot the mid range jumper at a high percentage.

Delon Wright was the team’s first round pick of the 2015 NBA Draft. Look for him to learn from the two veterans.

Shooting Guards:

When Demar Derozan made his first all star appearance two seasons ago, many believed that the 26-year old athletic shooting guard will take the next step forward. However, Derozan missed 21 games with a groin injury and never really captured his all star form. Still, Derozan led the Raptors in scoring, averaged 20.1 points a game, but his field goal percentage was the worst of his career at 41.3 percent.

Terrence Ross had every opportunity to step up at the starting three for the Raptors. However, Ross was very inconsistent all season long. Ross had offseason ankle surgery and hope to be more healthier. When Ross is right, he’s very athletic with the ability to shoot the three. He will come off the bench to back up Derozan.

Norman Powell was a second round choice during last summer’s draft. He was a standout at the Las Vegas summer league averaging 18.3 points.

Small Forwards:

Demare Carroll was the Raptors’ biggest offseason acquisitions. The 29-year old signed a 4-year deal worth $60 million after being the starting small forward for the Atlanta Hawks last season. Carroll was brought for his perimeter and ability to knock down the three ball. He shot 39.5 percent from downtown, which should help the Raptors’ offence.

James Johnson returned to the Raptors last season. Johnson is also known for his defense and made on highlight reel dunks. Look for him to be the X-factor for the Raptors.

It was a shock when the Raptors selected Bruno Caboclo in the 2014 NBA Draft. He may have to be a spectator for another year to continue to learn the game.

Power Forwards:

Fan Favourite Amir Johnson left the Raptors to join the Boston Celtics during the offseason. Which means that Patrick Patterson will start at the power forward spot. Patterson has been a key role player. Look for the Raptors to use him at a stretch four since Patterson can shoot the three.

Luis Scola was brought in to be a crafty low-post presence. Though he is 35 years of age, he could be a reliable reserve behind Patterson.

Raptors signed Canadian Anthony Bennett to provide some depth at the power foward spot. He could be an intriguing pick up after struggling to find some playing time with Cleveland and Minnesota over the last two seasons.

Centers:

The Raptors are hoping that Jonas Valanciunas will take that next step forward. The fourth-year center shot a high percent on the floor at 57.2 percent and continued to improve as his career went on. The Lithuanian average career highs in points (12.0) and rebounds (8.7). With Valanciunas locked up for 4 years worth $64 million, the Raptors will need more from Valanciunas than to simply justify his contract extension.

Bismack Biyombo was added to the Raptors to be the rim protector and rebounder.

Lucas Nogueria showed some promise during the summer league, displaying solid interior defense.

Coaching:

When the Raptors hired Dwane Casey back in 2012, Casey was known for being a defensive-minded coach. Instead, the Raptors shown the lack of effort on the defensive side of the ball. After an early exit in the playoffs, there were many speculation that Casey could be on the hot seat. Now that Masai used this offseason to address their overall defence, Casey is looking for his players to be fully committed on shutting down their opponents.

Overall:

The Raptors strategy will be more focus on defense and ball movement.

The Raptors’ offensive attack should remain versatile. Lowry and DeRozanare both capable of finding buckets in isolation. Valanciunas can be a threat in the post. Carroll, Joseph, Patterson and Luis Scola should all help on offence as well.

But the key for the Raptors’ success will be on defence. Look for Carroll to guard other team’s best perimeter players. Keep an eye on their help defence as well.

Barring any injury, this new looked Raptors should be a playoff team for the third straight year. They will have to bring their “A” game to compete in the East.

Predictions: Raptors finished 50-32, 4th in the Eastern Conference