Boston traded their number one pick for the 3rd overall pick, and future draft picks to the Philadelphia 76ers. This caused complete anarchy not just in terms of the NBA 2017 draft, but also the NBA landscape. Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid are all on rookie contracts. The future for 76ers organisation is vivid and optimistic. The decadence they spiralled into with Sam Hinke has finally paid dividends. But with such an ostentatious starting four, there needs to be pragmatic defence, floor spacing and substance. Is Serge Ibaka the man to fill that void?
Let’s first look at the projections for the salary cap (the 2017-2018 season), and the payroll the 76ers are currently obligated to pay:
|76ers Payroll for 2017-2018 season||76ers Payroll with Markelle Fultz (Prediction)||2017-2018 NBA Salary Cap Projection|
|$50,792,577||$57,680,234||$102 million (Cap) and $122 million (Luxury Tax)|
We can clearly see that even with the addition of Fultz on a 1st pick contract, the 76ers will be about $45 million below the salary cap. Consensus indicates a substantial investment into free agency to create a formidable squad; Serge Ibaka would be the first name the 76ers should acquire.
There are several reasons why Serge and Philadelphia are a match made in proverbial NBA heaven. We will discuss those reasons three fold: floor spacing, defensive intensity and the African connection.
Space it Serge
Long gone are the days when you could post the power forward up on the low block and channel your offensive through him. Now with the pace and space era, the power forward needs to be able stretch the floor to the 3 point line. But he also needs to be deft, agile and dexterous enough to guard the smaller guards on switches off the pick and roll.
Ibaka is capable of this level of play. This was shown in the 2016 Western Conference finals match up against the Golden State Warriors. Ibaka and OKC had a 3-1 lead against the greatest NBA regular season team of all time. They came within one game of the greatest upset in NBA history. And this was down, in large part, to the defensive effort of Ibaka and Steven Adams on the GSW guards.
He is also a much improved jumper shooter. Let’s just look at his shooting range stats from the 2016-2017 NBA season (all stats courtesy of nbasavant.com):
Top of the key 3 pointers, Serge shot just below 41% at a clip of 40.9%. This was not based off a small sample size of shots either. Serge registered 274 shots from this position. Much of this success can be attributed to his improved 3 point shot on the transitional fast-break. This is a 6.5% increase from the previous season, but also it shows how the offensive has become more comfortable with throwing it out to the oncoming Ibaka.
His jumping shooting game has improved in general throughout the years, and the 12 foot jump shot has become his bread and butter. Ibaka was shooting at 45.6% on all shots over 10 feet, but up to 21 feet. As Jeff Van Gundy recently stated on a Zac Lowe podcast, “Michael Jordan would not have succumbed to the 3 point game. He shot well over 50% on mid-range shots. If you excel at something, it’s always a useful asset.” Ibaka isn’t Jordan, but he is a reliable jumper shooter now. This trademark shot, and his ever improving 3 point shot will open up the lane for Simmons and Fultz.
Remember Serge Iblocka?
Okay, he isn’t the defensive presence that he used to be. But that’s attributed to combination of factors. The first problem lied within the redundancy he felt in a stagnant offensive in OKC, the second because of the evolution of the game for big men, and lastly father time. However with Joel Embiid on the floor with him, there isn’t a real need for him to be the beast he was in the 2011-2012 season, where he averaged 9.2% in total block percentage.
What he can add is valuable mentorship to the young Embiid on the defensive end. How to set an illegal pick without being called for a moving violation, how to position yourself for the best block and just a general insight into NBA player’s weaknesses that can only be understood through experience.
If Ibaka can infuse the same level of defensive intensity that Serge was known for, we may have a future hall of famer on our hands.
A Cameroonian and a Congolese Work Into a Bar
76ers have a precedent set in place that allows future NBA stars to learn from a personal mentor. Jahlil Okafor was mentored by the past his prime, Elton Brand. This got Brand a contract that he should never have been entitled to. The Lakers have also implemented a similar strategy with Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram.
So why shouldn’t the same apply for Joel Embiid. Yes, I realise that they are not from the same country, and I am under no disillusionment that Africa is in fact a continent. However, having many black friends for various different cultural backgrounds, I can tell you that there idiosyncrasy in their language, culture and upbringing that unites them perfectly.
Maybe this isn’t the case for Embiid and Ibaka. But maybe it is. And if it is, you could hand Ibaka a nice contract, where he will contribute on and off the court (unlike Brand).
You could get Ibaka for reasonable price, at $120 million over 5 years, and still have enough money to create a very deep roster.
Serge spaces the floor, he is still a good defender and has valuable wisdom he can impart to this young 76ers roster. Can be a leader? I am not sure. But this isn’t taking a gamble. This is a sure thing for 14PPG and 8RPG, and fits well within in the new era of basketball. 76ers have nothing to lose. Serge may be the final surge Philly need to truly challenge Lebron in the east.