By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston
It’s now two games in for the Raptors Serge Ibaka and from all appearances, each time out it’s been just another day at the office for the best power forward Toronto has started since Chris Bosh played for the team.
In the two wins Ibaka is averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, a block and 1.5 threes as he’s shot 55.6 percent from the field and been a beast on defense whether it’s out on the perimeter or in the post. In short, Ibaka has been better than advertised.
“I’m just focused,” Ibaka responded to Pro Bball Report. “Like I said in the beginning, it was tough a little bit. We didn’t really have a lot of time to practice together and I am still learning the plays. The one thing I know you cannot learn is playing hard, so that’s what we did.”
That Ibaka plays hard has been obvious from the start and it’s been hard play that has enabled Toronto to win without their All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.
“We have the potential to do a lot of good things this year,” Ibaka said. “We need a couple more practices together to learn and then when Kyle comes back it’s going to be very good.”
The schedule maker did give the Raptors an extra day before they resumed playing after the All-Star break, so Ibaka did get a crash course on how the Raptors go about their business, but after a half a season on a new team in Orlando, the long time Oklahoma City power forward has gone through a lot in a relatively short period of time.
“A little change, but really a big change, I’m going to learn,’’ Ibaka said earlier this week. “The good thing is that I’ve had people help me, making me focus on playing basketball because they’re making things easier.’’
“We threw a lot at the young man, but he comprehended a lot,’’ head coach Dwane Casey explained. “Defensively he added a buzz to the team, his communication, speed and reaction and understanding where to be.
“His teammates were all helping him, talking to him. Patrick Patterson was helping and talking to him, coaching him when he (Patterson) was playing against him. It’s like home work, but it’s different when you get here on the court, timing, having to understand it, speed and quickness, reading situations. But again, he was a quick learner. We tried to put him in comfortable situations. I went back and studied film when he was in Oklahoma City, Orlando to get a feel for where he likes the basketball, the things he did defensively and what we can incorporate.”
Casey went on to add that being a veteran helps when you get moved in the middle of the season.
“The most important thing is that there’s nothing he hasn’t seen. He’s not going to get tricked too many times. You may get him once and that’s the thing about a veteran because you’re not going to get him multiple times.
“It gave us homework and (to) prepare to understand where to put him, what he likes to do. It’s not like we’re going in one day before for a game. Again, it’s going to take time for him to get acclimated, but he is ahead of the curve because of his basketball experience and IQ.”
It’s his talent, experience and versatility that improves the Raptors roster from the one that Casey put on the floor before the All-Star break. A natural power forward, Ibaka can also play center and be a big defender when the opposition goes with a smaller line-up.
“He’s an excellent defender,’’ said Casey. “I remember the days of going at him from down in Dallas (when he was an assistant to Rick Carlisle on the Mavs). The game has changed from a shot blocking perspective, but it’s still there. He can still protect the rim.”
Is Serge Ibaka the final piece to get the Raptors to the NBA Finals?
He is playoff tested and has NBA Finals experience. Plus he has stepped into a huge role at starting power forward and instantly elevated the play of everyone around him.
He has been just what the doctor ordered to put the Raptors back on the right track.