When the Toronto Raptors acquired Serge Ibaka on February 14th, it appeared that the team had finally acquired a reliable Power Forward to play alongside Jonas Valanciunas. Over the offseason Toronto signed former Boston Celtics Power Forward Jared Sullinger however, a foot injury would derail any plans the Raptors had and would cause the team to use rookie Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira in the starting five. Nogueira and Siakam did not do that bad of a job filling the void but, it became clear very fast that Toronto was in need of a reliable front court player who could not only be a lockdown defender and protect the paint but also, a reliable scorer whom which, the team could look to as another option aside from Valanciunas in the post.
Veteran forward Patrick Patterson was also used in the starting rotation however, it became evident over the course of the seven games Patterson started that he was better utilized as a high-energy three and d type player off the bench. Although Patterson did not succeed as a starter, he has found success as a role player.
Currently, the Raptors have been playing with a starting five of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Lucas Nogueira and Jonas Valanciunas. An NBA rotation is very much like a puzzle. Certain pieces fit and others do not. In the case of an NBA rotation, when you put certain players together they may work well together or, they may not. For Toronto, only one question remains, where will Serge Ibaka, along with players returning from injury, fit into their puzzle?
For most, the obvious and most likely situation is to slot Ibaka right into the starting rotation. The All-Star break could not have come at a better time for Toronto and, with the team not playing until Friday, the will have a decent amount of time to ease Serge Ibaka into the starting rotation. In 56 games as a starter with the Orlando Magic, Ibaka averaged 15.1 points, 6.8 total rebounds, 1.8 offensive rebounds and 5.0 defensive rebounds along with, 1.6 blocks per game around 30 minutes per game. On the season, Ibaka has so far averaged more blocks and points per game than current Raptors starting Center Jonas Valanciunas.
With Ibaka moving into the starting five, expect a handful of changes to the Raptors overall rotation. Lucas Nogueira will move over into a reserve role however, it would be no surprise to still see the young big man play around 15-20 minutes per game as Patrick Patterson is still recovering from injury. Jared Sullinger at some point will return from his current stint with Toronto’s Development League affiliate, Raptors 905, located in Mississauga Ontario however, he will likely continue to be on a minutes restriction as he eases back into playing NBA basketball.
For Raptors rookie Jakob Poeltl who has struggled to see the court, the most likely scenario for him would be heading down to the NBA D-League to continue to grow, develop and, most importantly, see the court. Second-year guard Delon Wright, who played very well in the Raptors first half finally against Boston, has returned from injury meaning undrafted rookie Point Guard Fred VanVleet will also likely make the transition back to the NBA D-League.
As Poeltl and VanVleet now head back to the D-League, this leaves Toronto with the maximum 13 players allowed on a roster. Interesting and intense times are ahead for the reigning Atlantic Division Champions. Winning only four of their last ten games before the All-Star break, after finally acquiring what could be a problem-solving player in Serge Ibaka, for the Toronto Raptors the time is now to return to their winning ways and get out of the slide they are currently in.