Will Serge Ibaka play more power forward for the Toronto Raptors?

Toronto Raptors - Serge Ibaka (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Serge Ibaka (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

A few teams in the Eastern Conference have eyes on bigger line-ups this year. Could this see Serge Ibaka play more power forward for the Toronto Raptors?

Like fashion, basketball is all about trends. Eventually, teams all end up doing the same thing in search of success. Watching one team gain traction with a style of play or certain line-up gives everyone hope that, maybe, just maybe, they can have the same results. This season, the Toronto Raptors might have to follow a potentially new trend.

Or at least, an older trend that might be back on the horizon once more. In recent times, we’ve seen team’s deploy smaller, more athletic line-ups in search of a competitive edge. Along with that, the league has trended to a perimeter-centric scheme over the last few years – the more three-pointers, the better.

That switch in philosophy phased out a lot of the more traditional centers in the league. Players were asked to stretch out their game beyond the paint and to the three-point line. Some adapted, some did not.

Now, in the trenches of the Eastern Conference, the stylistic trends of basketball have come full circle and the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers have made offseason moves that indicate that they’ll be zigging while the rest of the league – save for a few teams – will be zagging.

The Sixers had one of the busiest offseasons in the league, and despite trading away Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat, might have increased the overall quality of their starting line-up. They added former Boston Celtics hybrid big-man, Al Horford to their ranks as well as acquiring Josh Richardson in the trade that sent Butler to South Beach.

Overall, the Sixers were one of the bigger line-ups in the league last season, but only housed the one traditional center at a time: Joel Embiid. It was the length of Philadelphia that caused the Raptors untold amounts of problems in the playoffs last season, with Embiid wrecking the paint along with the help of Ben Simmons, Butler, and co.

While the whole line-up of the Sixers still has size, it’s the frontcourt duo of Embiid and Horford that is primed to attract the most attention when game-planning. The traditional frontcourt in terms of size, the Sixers will be able to stifle teams defensively while having enough talent on paper to be a historically good defense team.

Offensively, question marks around the whole team’s functionality exist, but those are the risks you have to take.

If the Raptors want to have success against the likes of the Sixers, then it might be an option to field Serge Ibaka at power forward alongside Marc Gasol at center. The start of the regular season saw Ibaka deployed at center, rather than power forward where he spent considerable time sharing the frontcourt with Jonas Valanciunas in the preceding year.

Ibaka impressed at center during the whole season, putting forth a career renaissance as the Raptors finished with the second-best record in the NBA. However, he only played 3-percent of his minutes at the power forward position.

In the playoffs, those numbers peaked drastically. Ibaka would spend 22-percent of his minutes at the power forward position in the postseason, with fairly decent results. The five-man lineup that the Raptors deployed the most – featuring Gasol and Ibaka, along with Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green played 30 total minutes across six games, putting up a net rating of 16.9.

Despite a fairly limited sample size, one could expect that Gasol and Ibaka could continue to grow as partners in a traditional frontcourt. Ibaka could be the athletic rebounder and shot-blocking power forward and Marc Gasol could be the Marc Gasol that was a defensive mastermind during the playoffs.

Against the Sixers frontcourt that features size and switchability, the Raptors would be wise to combat with their own version. Ibaka has shown that he’s capable of keeping up with Horford and his willingness to drift out to the three-point line, and Marc Gasol showed more than enough to prove that he’s ready to bang in the paint with Joel Embiid.

It’s not just the Sixers the Raptors could deploy the traditional frontcourt against. The Indiana Pacers seem ready to run out a frontcourt consisting of Myles Turner and Domantis Sabonis, though the fit might be nearly as effective.

Next. Can Terence Davis break into the Toronto Raptors rotation?. dark

Like all good teams do, the Raptors thankfully have more than one interesting hand they can run out at any point. With the top of the East going back to basics, the Raptors will likely deploy Serge Ibaka at power forward as often as they can.