When it comes to contract years to keep an eye on, Serge Ibaka’s should be at the top of the list.
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