With Marc Gasol going down with multiple injuries and Serge Ibaka playing lights out, the Toronto Raptors need to lock in Ibaka as their number one center.
The NBA season may be on pause for the time being, but every coach should keep the mindset that it'll be resumed at some point. That means preparing accordingly for the Toronto Raptors.
Before mayhem ensued on the world, the Raptors were looking like contenders for another championship. A well-oiled machine with all fronts working together. But one piece of the puzzle that was missing for much of it was Marc Gasol.
He was coming off the glory of an NBA championship and a FIBA World Cup win this past summer, but the 2019-2020 season has had more lows than highs for Gasol. He's already missed nearly half the season and never got healthy enough to find his rhythm.
But finding your rhythm isn't easy when you get sidelined less than 10 games after getting back into the lineup. He never had the time to feel comfortable on the court. Some nights he moved flawlessly within the Raptors offence, but on other nights it seemed like no matter what he did the shots just weren't going down. So like Terrence's Ross's time with the Raptors, offensive inconsistency was definitely an issue.
The biggest factor that doesn't help Gasol's case is the exceptional play of Serge Ibaka in his place. Ibaka is having the best season of his career and has proven that he can consistently be an offensive threat.
In the month of February, the Congo native averaged nearly 18 points per game and 8 rebounds. Even if he will never be the rim protector he once was, Ibaka was no slouch on defence, averaging nearly a block per game on the year and locking down several key opponents like Lamarcus Aldridge (10 points in 110-106 Raptors Victory) on route to their 15 game win streak.
Gasol does edge out Ibaka in a few ways. Firstly, his basketball IQ is second to none. Besides possibly Lebron James, no one in the league sees the game like Gasol. His ability to find players driving through the lane is jaw-dropping, he brings a flare of creativity to the Raptors offence which catches teams off guard, he has the ability to lead teammates on the court and is rarely found out of position.
He is an elite 7 foot 1 defender who has the ability to contain NBA juggernauts. Don't forget the time he limited Joel Embiid to 11 points in game 4 of their 7 game clash just a season ago. Gasol took command of the paint and left Embiid offensively clueless. By the time the buzzer rang, the Raptors were victorious and Embiid left the court with his head down after shooting below 30% from the field.
But Gasol still doesn't deserve a starting role if the NBA resumes play.
His injuries this season are a major concern and risking another one by giving him heavy minutes would be a mistake by Nick Nurse, especially since this unexpected suspension of play has left him off the courts for months. He has already injured his hamstring twice this season which hints that maybe he wasn't %100 when he returned in the first place.
This may force Gasol to play a conservative game and when it comes to playoffs, that just won't cut it. He's is not getting any younger and his body is giving him signals. Add that on to his lack of consistency and it could be a recipe for disaster. With Kawhi not at the helm this year, the Toronto Raptors will need all the help they can get on the offensive end.
Good starts are crucial in the playoffs. The level of intensity needs to be raised a few notches or else you will get left behind. Ibaka brings loads of energy both from his play and ferocious personality while being able to put up buckets out of the gate.
This doesn't mean Gasol won't be an integral part of the Toronto Raptors playoff run. Even with his decline in point production and increasingly fragile body, he can find other ways to be useful. Surely Nick Nurse will utilize him in certain defensive matchups and the Raps offense always runs smoother with Gasol on the court, but it doesn't warrant him starting over Ibaka.
The Toronto Raptors have yet to find an effective playmaker off the bench since Vanvleet's promotion, but Gasol could be the player who finds Davis streaking to the net and see Matt Thomas looking for the ball in the corner. The bench needs someone who can run an offense, be a leader, and calm the nerves before a playoff game. Gasol can be that guy.
Moving Ibaka to the bench would be non-sensical and almost disrespectful after the play he has given his team this season. Gasol will still have his time and was a big part in bringing the Larry O'Brien Trophy to Toronto last year, but it is time to pass the torch.