The Orlando Magic’s acquisition of Serge Ibaka on Thursday was a long-anticipated first step into reshaping the Magic’s future. After years in the NBAs backwaters, GM Rob Hennigan finally showed a bit of his hand. The first domino in Orlando’s path to future success, or sustained failure, has fallen.
In addition, the Magic added the unpolished, but well-rounded big man Stephen Zimmerman out of UNLV.
With so much size already on the roster, how will these deals pan out? Let’s take a look.
In: Serge Ibaka
Out: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis (the 11th pick)
In school, a B was the worst good grade you can get. You would’ve really loved an A, but let’s be honest, you didn’t study and it could’ve gone much worse.
Could it have been better? Absolutely. The Kings could’ve called and offered Demarcus Cousins for Vucevic and two first-rounders. Jimmy Butler could’ve recently attended a timeshare presentation that strongly convinced him to come live in Orlando. But none of that happened, and GM Rob Hennigan did the best he could with the assets available.
The Magic are in a unique position as a team trying to build a winner: their mid-level guys have already been moved. Tobias Harris and Channing Frye are gone, and Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon are untouchable. This means Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo were really the only movable assets coming into Thursday’s draft.
The needs on the roster were clear: rim protection, veteran leadership, and outside shooting. Serge Ibaka meets two of these needs perfectly, and so Hennigan pounced. When he pulled the trigger on that trade, Hennigan took the Magic two steps closer toward the future of the NBA. The league is quickly evolving around sharpshooting guards, and athletic, rim-protecting big men.
Statistically Ibaka’s best year came in 2013, when he averaged 15.1 points, 2.7 blocks, and 8.8 rebounds a game. He did all of this on a stellar 54 percent from two-point range and 38 percent from beyond the arc. If this player is the one that steps off the plane in Orlando, Hennigan’s investments will more than pay off.
In Ibaka, the Magic found the best player that has worn pinstripes since 2012, as well as the best defender. He isn’t a star, but he is a very valuable asset to build around: a high impact player that doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make a difference. This quality is especially attractive to free agents in a way that a player like Oladipo was not. Scorers need touches, and they love big men that erase their mistakes.
All that being said, Ibaka is far from perfect. Is he an All-Star? Probably not. Can he return to the Defensive Player of the Year level form? Maybe. His offensive game has gotten worse in each of the last two years, as the OKC staff have provided him with yards of rope to hang himself with. He is not a high volume three-point shooter, and Frank Vogel will need to rein him in if he hopes to have success.
The scariest part of this deal is that in OKC, Ibaka had two top-five players to alleviate the pressure. Here in Orlando, the team may need him to score depending what free agency will bring.
For such a potential gain, the loss was not much of a gamble. Just as the emergence of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter made Ibaka expendable, the emergence of Evan Fournier, as well as the promise of Mario Hezonja on the wings meant that Oladipo wasn’t worth keeping around at his value.
In the modern NBA, shooting is a premium. In Orlando, Oladipo never developed into either a consistent outside shooter or a physical finisher at the rim. The athletic shooting guard shot a pedestrian 54 percent inside of five feet, and 34 percent from beyond the arc. With one year left on his contract, and a Wild West of a free agency on the horizon in terms of player salaries, it was unlikely that the Magic would offer him a long-term contract in the future anyway.
If Elfrid Payton is truly the starting point guard of the future, as is evident by the amount of leash and team shaping that the Magic have already given him, Oladipo had to go. A point guard with an undeveloped shot can only work when paired with a deadly shooting two guard to compensate. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were a great example of this in Boston.
For years, fans have screamed for Hennigan to make a splash – to add veteran leadership and talent. Now that he’s made his choice, he will have to live with the result, but one thing is for sure: Ibaka has talent, and its up to Frank Vogel and the coaching staff to use it.
Pick 41 - Stephen Zimmerman: C+
Amidst the hustle and bustle of draft day, future starters often get overlooked. This may very well be the case for Stephen Zimmerman, a rangy seven-footer with a well-rounded game.
As Zach Oliver previously stated, Zimmerman is a tall, offensive-minded big man with a ton of talent. His combination of above average rebounding and mid-range shooting make him a solid commodity when spacing the floor. He can also operate effectively on the block, and occasionally flash a decent handle.
Though he has some quirks, such as a right elbow that doesn’t extend all the way, Zimmerman has some remarkably NBA-ready skills for his age. He is effective as a pick-and-pop big, all but eliminating the need to re-sign Jason Smith this offseason. This pick is more for the future than the present, and in that future it would be very easy to see Zimmerman bringing some change-of-pace minutes to a playoff team. The only issue with him coming to the Magic is they just made a move for another big, and it's going to be tough for him to break the rotation.
The future of the 2016 draft is yet to be determined, but at least it’s been good theater. It’ll be easy to remember exactly where you were when you heard Serge Ibaka was coming to Orlando.