Serge Ibaka was once the forgotten yet vital fourth member of an Oklahoma City Thunder team that many people believed were destined for championship glory. Starting with Harden’s departure, however, those beliefs were shelved for the time being. After being traded from Oklahoma City, Ibaka fell off the national radar for a while, but his recent season with the NBA Finals-winning Toronto Raptors helped bring him back into the spotlight.
Serge Ibaka’s road to Toronto
Ibaka was a vital cog to the Thunder’s frontcourt. His high-flying blocks and offensive work on the inside made him an indispensable piece of the Thunders roster during their run as a contender. His abilities never fell off as much as his exposure, and as the Thunder fell out of contention he became underrated.
Not long before the departure for Kevin Durant, Ibaka went to the Orlando Magic in a trade that brought Victor Oladipo to the Thunder for one season. Ibaka didn’t last long in Orlando. After only 56 games with the team, he was traded to the Raptors. His first season-and-a-half in Toronto brought him back to a contending team, but it was not until this last season when Ibaka returned to form.
Ibaka excelled in 2018-19
Serge Ibaka had one of his best seasons ever during the 2018-19 season. He gave the Raptors 15 points per game to go along with eight rebounds and a block. His presence beneath the basket helped stifle other teams defensively. Ibaka’s shooting, although not a major part of his game, helped stretch the floor for Kawhi Leonard and company.
His 15 points a game were third on the team, even ahead of Kyle Lowry, and his eight rebounds led the entire roster. Although he primarily came off the bench the playoffs, Ibaka was able to make the best of it and help Fred Van Vleet and company stick it to the second-units of all of their opponents. Although he was not the first name people thought of on the Raptors, Ibaka played a vital role in their success.
Serge Ibaka talks life after rings
Ibaka celebrated his achievement with the Toronto Raptors by bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy to his home in Congo. There, he showed the people what was possible and inspire both children and adults alike. Ibaka reflected on the championship and even took the time to hang out with Leonard before he left the team two weeks later.
That year is behind Ibaka, however, and he told the media that he now wants more of the championship glory. With a similar but heavily-depleted team, many are not ready to give the Raptors a shot at the title, but Ibaka isn’t letting that get in the way of his ultimate goal. In fact, when asked about what has changed, Ibaka gave a simple four-word answer:
“Nothing. I want more.”
Kawhi Leonard’s absence is inarguably a huge blow to the Raptors title hopes. Even with an NBA that is more wide open than it has been in many years, Leonard was arguably the best player in the NBA last season, and even the best teams can’t easily overcome a loss like that. However, this does not mean that the Raptors will be a punching bag all year.
The Raptors proved last year that they could win without Leonard. After all, he sat out nearly a quarter of their season, and the team’s record was even better without him. While this may not tell the whole story, it shows that the team can overcome a storm. It will be an unusual year for the defending champions, but if all of them can look forward like Serge Ibaka is, they could prove doubters wrong again.