Hot Take: Jonas Valanciunas Will Be Better Than Serge Ibaka

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka have similar flaws, but people give Ibaka a pass for some odd reason.

The Serge Ibaka acquisition for the Raptors last season was a good one. In fact, last season I wrote about how the Raptors should trade for Ibaka four days before the trade was rumored. In my article, I was willing to give up more than the Raptors actually did. So, don’t paint me as a Serge Ibaka hater.

It’s very easy to point out Jonas Valanciunas’s flaws as a weak defender and poor passer. Wait just a minute there. Aren’t those the exact flaws Serge Ibaka has? Per 36 minutes last year with the Raptors Valanciunas averaged 1 assist whereas Ibaka only averaged 0.8. But I thought Serge was the far superior defender? Jonas Valanciunas’s defensive rating last year was 105. That means roughly 105 points were allowed per 100 possessions with Valanciunas. Ibaka had a worse defensive rating of 108 and before you say small sample size his rating with the Magic was 109.

Serge Ibaka is NOT the all-star talent he once was. The Raptors also didn’t trade for prime Ibaka. If you think the Raptors had that Ibaka you are delusional. Superstar Serge was blocking more than 3 shots a game and would have cost a heck of a lot more than Terrence Ross and a first-round pick. This doesn’t mean Ibaka is bad because he still has significant value especially to the Raptors who are thin at power forward. I get the urge of wanting to draw up a Raptors big 3 that includes Serge Ibaka, but I feel like that’s probably a little disrespectful to all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Catch the Rebound

Some people seem to think with a fully healthy Raptors team and a summer of chemistry building old Serge Ibaka can make a resurgence. Ibaka’s blocks per game have decreased every year since he has modified his game to stretch the floor more. Elite rim protectors don't tend to age well, but Ibaka still fills a need. The Raptors have made it a point of emphasis to shoot more threes this year and Serge happens to be one of the few players on the Raptors that can hit those shots. The idea of Ibaka playing small-ball center is appealing to many and it has its advantages, but it also creates a couple of problems. If Serge Ibaka is playing center then Pascal Siakam probably has to play power forward next to him. That’s probably not going to be much of an issue for small stretches, but it’s hard to have confidence in Siakam if he has to play 30 minutes a game. Additionally, Serge Ibaka isn’t a great rebounder for a center. He only averaged 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last year whereas the rebounding phenom Jonas Valanciunas averaged 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s a significant difference.

“Jonas Valanciunas is slow and cannot move well.”

Jonas has looked a little faster this preseason and let’s not forget how Kevin Love burned Serge Ibaka off the dribble last year in the playoffs.

"Jonas Valanciunas needs touches to be productive. What is the point of having him out there if the Raptors don’t run plays for him?"

This is a valid point, but if Serge Ibaka isn’t getting touches and hitting threes is he being productive enough to stay on the court?

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka can play together. I think people often forget that Jonas is only 25. The Raptors invested a lot of money in him and even if their intention is to trade him they will have to play him to keep his trade value up. Serge Ibaka will be almost impossible to trade on his new deal, but he can stretch the floor and contest shots to complement Valanciunas.

I’m going to leave you with a thought. Valanciunas has been working on his three-ball. If he were to develop that shot and the Raptors have better ball movement how far off is Jonas Valanciunas from being Kevin Love?

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