So, uhh, yeah. That awful Chicago Bulls loss last night? A distant memory now. No, the Toronto Raptors aren’t out of the mud yet, and they continue to dig themselves a deeper hole to eventually pull out of. But Wednesday is cause for excitement, because Serge Ibaka is here. Prior to the regular game-day availability before games, Ibaka spoke with the media.
The presser was a little rushed, pushed back about 15 minutes as Ibaka had just finished his physical with doctors. He also had to leave for the team’s walkthrough in short order, the first time he’ll be talking to Dwane Casey and his teammates. Asked about a potential learning curve, Ibaka said that you don’t have to learn to play hard, which is a nice quote and a good attitude. He also said the presence of Rex Kalamian, a former Thunder assistant, should help with his learning curve. Beyond that, and Ibaka noting that Bismack Biyombo told him a lot of good stories about the city and fans, there wasn’t much to what he said. Ibaka also wasn’t sure, as of 5:15, if he’d be able to play tonight or not.
UPDATE: He won’t.
I spent a lot of time today watching Orlando Magic footage. You’ve probably read enough about Ibaka and his fit at this point, but here are my three biggest takeaways:
- The Magic are awful. That’s not to be mean, but it is always more difficulty to evaluate a player properly in a bad situation. He was an ill fit with Vucci Mane on defense and with Biyombo on offense, the Magic have terrible spacing, like, always, and he was used sub-optimally for the most part.
- Ibaka was often guilty of giving what looked to be less than 100 percent effort. It’s not a good look, but there’s reason for optimism that a more engaged Ibaka will look even better than he did in Orlando, especially on the defensive end. That should help make up for a perceived loss of athleticism, particularly defending in the pick-and-roll.
- He’s going to be a nice fit with what the Raptors are going to ask of him on offense. The above-the-break threes as a pick-and-pop threat should come more regularly than he’s used to, and they should be cleaner with bigger ball-handling threats feeding him. He’ll find his way to the corners more often, where he rarely shot from this year but should, theoretically, shoot even better with a larger sample. He won’t need to do it much, but he can attack a closeout and create for himself a little bit. He’s also a quality screen-setter, though he’s not particularly effective on the dive (a lot of the Raptors dual- and stagger-screen action will have him popping, not rolling, anyway, and he’s a good enough mid-range shooter to short-roll to mix things up).
- And yes, I think Patterson-Ibaka lineups could be really good. You sacrifice a lot on the glass, but there should be a ton of spacing, and they’ll be really switchy on defense.
Anyway, we’ve talked about all of this a ton by now. Don’t let Tuesday’s awful game mute your excitement for Ibaka. Just hope he’s the spark the rest of the team needs to shake off their funk.
The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on TSN and Sportsnet 590. Here’s the full game preview.
The big question facing the Raptors is, quite obviously, whether either of their power forwards will play in the final game before the All-Star break. Serge Ibaka is waiting on both himself and Terrence Ross to pass physicals, while Patrick Patterson is still on the mend with a knee injury. Considering Patterson has gotten in multiple practices and continues to sit, it seems maybe the team is holding him out through the break, which would be justifiable. They could also reverse course and play him here, looking to get one game in with their full rotation to at least get themselves a feel for it and some tape to go over. If Ibaka can play, awesome, because the adjustment to a new team with new terminology is tough, even for an experienced, intelligent player.
If those two can’t go, the weird power forward rotation will continue. The Raptors could start small against the Hornets, but doing so would require a commitment to playing small for most of the game, since they’d essentially have to bench wings if they start three. Failing that, Jakob Poeltl looked good in one game and bad in another, Pascal Siakam continues to be a poor fit with that group, and Lucas Nogueira probably isn’t the best matchup against a downsized power forward. Thank shammgod this is the last game we’ll have to worry about what’s going on at this position for the foreseeable future.
UPDATE: Ibaka won’t play. There’s nothing wrong with his physical, but the team opted to keep him out anyway, citing the fact that he’s a human being and will take some adjustment time. Patterson is also out, but Casey talked about him as if he’s back Feb. 24.
UPDATE II: The Raptors are starting small, with Powell at the two, DeRozan the three, and Carroll the four. It makes sense opposite Williams at the four, but it leaves the Raptors pretty thin on wings.
For what it’s worth, I’m toying with the idea of beginning to list Delon Wright as the backup shooting guard instead of the third point guard and bumping Norman Powell to the three. Yes, Wright is still a point guard by trade and by style, but with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph entrenched in their roles (at least for now, with the latter), Wright’s likely to see the bulk of his time in two point-guard sets in the near-term. Beyond that, the Raptors are suddenly super thin on the wing, and Powell’s likely to see heavy time as a smaller three than at his more natural shooting guard spot. None of this really matters – the depth charts I do here are kind of archaic given the more fluid nature of modern NBA rotations, but, yeah, if you see that change out of the break (assuming no other deals), that will be why.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Delon Wright
SF:DeMar DeRozan, Bruno Caboclo
PF:DeMarre Carroll, Pascal Siakam, Jared Sullinger
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira,Jakob Poeltl
OUT:Patrick Patterson, Serge Ibaka
The Hornets will be a little thinned out in the frontcourt, but I have some good news: As a generic looking white guy, I plan to just throw a jersey on and check in for them at some point, and it’s unlikely anybody will notice. You’re telling me Steve Clifford can tell the difference between me, Miles Plumlee, Cody Zeller, Mike Tobey, Chris Andersen, and Frank Kaminsky? Not a chance…I’m white, I’ve got a beard, I’ve got tattoos, I’m goofy looking…I’ve got all the boxes checked off to blend into the Hornets’ big-man rotation seamlessly. And sure, I’m maybe a foot too short, but I’m “sneaky athletic” and “make the most out of my limited natural ability.”
In seriousness, Plumlee (calf) and Zeller (quad) are out for this one, as is Ramon Sessions (knee surgery). They have reinforcements in the form of a pair of D-League call-ups plus the recalled Christian Wood, but they’re still going to be a little thinned out up front. That might be fine for them, given their ability to downsize thanks to guard and wing depth, and the Raptors are now a little better suited to defend lineups like that (if Ibaka and Patterson play, anyway). What the Hornets do in the starting lineup isn’t entirely clear, but starting Kaminsky would seem to be the logical move, especially opposite Valanciunas.
It’s hard to figure exactly how the Hornets will look here – their three most-used lineups on the season are off the table (two include Zeller and one included the outbound Roy Hibbert), meaning their most familiar fivesome, the presumed starters, has spent just 100 minutes together this year. They’ve been outscored by 3.9 points per-100 possessions in those minutes, too, with the additional spacing not helping goose the offense at all (small sample caveats apply, as always).
PG: Kemba Walker, Brian Roberts, Ray McCallum
SG: Nicolas Batum, Marco Belinelli, Treveon Graham
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb
PF: Marvin Williams, Christian Wood
C: Frank Kaminsky, Mike Tobey
OUT: Ramon Sessions, Miles Plumlee, Cody Zeller
- Bruno Caboclo was with Raptors 905 last night but was recalled in time to sit on the bench here. The 905 are off until Feb. 23 due to the All-Star break, which will see the coaching staff, Edy Tavares, Axel Toupane, and defending Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan all heading to New Orleans. With the Raptors nearing full health, expect Caboclo to spend the bulk of his time with the 905 out of the break.
- In honor of Terrence Ross, I made this supercut of him skying for uncontested defensive rebounds:
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites, according to the lines at Betfaircasino.com, with an over-under of 213. Your guess is as good as mine how the Raptors will play with or without Patterson and/or Ibaka, so maybe hold off throwing down your New Orleans budget on either side until you know who’s playing and you somehow take a deep spiritual look inside the soul of this Jekyll and Hyde outfit of late. (I’m feeling optimistic regardless, but this game has the vibe of a sort of pre-vacation exhibition, and so it’s a little hard to peg down how it’ll go.