Tuesday September 13th, 2016

When it comes to contract years to keep an eye on, Serge Ibaka’s should be at the top of the list. Dealt to the Magic in a draft day move, the 26-year-old big man is in for a new role, new responsibilities and, perhaps, a new type of scrutiny too. In Orlando, Ibaka should emerge as the team’s leader and best player, especially if he can recover from a disappointing 2015-16 season (12.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG). But what will that mean for his game? Will he stick to what he’s done best in the past—serving as a release valve by spacing the floor, knocking down open shots and finishing with authority in the basket area—or will Orlando’s lack of A-list talent require that he be more involved as a pick-and-roll finisher or post-up option? On the other end, Ibaka has clearly slipped from his days as a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, although he’s still an impact-making interior presence. Can he be the driving force behind new coach Frank Vogel’s defense-first vision and how, exactly, will the Magic find the right pairings with Ibaka, fellow shot-blocking specialist Bismack Biyombo, offensive-minded center Nikola Vucevic, and promising forward Aaron Gordon all needing minutes? All of this is unchartered territory for Ibaka, who is used to fitting in rather than being a team’s focal point. The stakes are pretty big here: A successful transition could lead to near-max money, while another year of decline could significantly diminish his basketball worth. (Last year: No. 25)

+ Allowed opponents to shoot just 43.3% at the rim last season (per Nylon Calculus). His 228 contested shots in the playoffs ranked third behind Draymond Green and Tristan Thompson
+ He hit the same number of postseason threes as Kevin Durant (31) on 41 fewer attempts
– After undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 2015, his rebound and block rates hit career lows last year
– After playing with two All-Stars his entire career, he will join a talent-deficient Magic roster

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