Fantasy basketball implications of Raptors’ Serge Ibaka trade

Orlando Magic's Serge Ibaka (7) smiles after being called for a foul against Miami Heat's Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Miami. The Magic defeated the Heat 116-107. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Two weeks ago, as rumors began trickling out about the Orlando Magic’s willingness to move on from Serge Ibaka heading into the NBA’s Feb. 23 trade deadline, I postulated what it might mean for fantasy basketball. On Tuesday, that hypothetical transformed into reality.

As The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported, the Magic sent Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for swingman Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round draft pick. The trade has enormous fantasy implications for both teams, breathing new life into certain players’ rest-of-season outlook.

Here’s a brief look at how fantasy owners should react to the Ibaka deal, along with quick-hit updates about Kevin Love’s injury and the Mason Plumlee-Jusuf Nurkic swap.

What it means for Toronto

Heading into Tuesday, Ibaka was posting top-35 value on the year, so any change to his fantasy outlook isn’t welcome news to fantasy owners. Seeing as he was posting a career-high 21.0 percent usage rate in Orlando this year, according to Basketball-Reference, his offensive output is all but certain to decline upon his arrival in Toronto, as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have higher usage rates than any Magic rotation player. No Raptors player aside from DeRozan and Lowry is averaging 10 or more field goal attempts per game, which likewise doesn’t bode well for Ibaka’s chances of continuing to score at his current rate.

That said, what Ibaka loses in offensive output, he could gain defensively. Jonas Valanciunas isn’t much of a shot-blocker — he’s averaging 0.8 swats per game — so Ibaka could move closer to two rejections a night if he plays 30-plus minutes. The timing of this trade should also help him acclimate more quickly to Toronto’s system, as he’ll have the entire All-Star break to familiarize himself with his new digs. This represents a sell-high opportunity for owners skittish about Ibaka’s rest-of-season outlook, but no one should panic-drop him.

For those in deeper leagues, Norman Powell may now be worth a look, as he figures to move into Ross’ place in Toronto’s rotation. During the eight-game stretch in late January and early February where DeRozan sat out for all but one contest, Powell erupted for 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.8 triples in 32.5 minutes per game across seven starts. His value won’t be that high unless DeRozan goes down again, but he should begin picking up somewhere around 20 minutes per game, making him worth an add in 14-team leagues or deeper.

What it means for Orlando

As I suggested two weeks ago, the biggest winner of the Ibaka deal is Aaron Gordon (53.9 percent owned), who now can move back to his natural position at power forward. Whereas the Arizona product logged more than 60 percent of his minutes at the 4 across his first two seasons, according to Basketball-Reference, he’s spent just 4.0 percent of his minutes there this year. With Gordon becoming eligible for a contract extension this summer, it’s imperative for Orlando to figure out how to best utilize him.

After the All-Star break last season, Gordon averaged 12.0 points on 48.3 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 triples and 0.6 blocks in just 27.9 minutes across his 27 games, teasing at the type of well-rounded fantasy potential he packs. He was still prone to inconsistency at times — he went off for 20 points, 16 rebounds, one block and one steal against the Golden State Warriors one night, then followed up with just five points, four rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal the next against the Los Angeles Lakers — but head coach Frank Vogel has every incentive to stick with Gordon through his ups and downs. If you’re going to pick up anyone as a result of this deal, make it Gordon.

That said, Ross (6.7 percent owned) should also experience a spike in fantasy value upon arriving in Orlando. With Jodie Meeks likely out for the year and Mario Hezonja unable to stay out of Vogel’s doghouse for very long, Ross could flirt with upwards of 30 minutes per game with the Magic, particularly if Evan Fournier goes on the shelf again at any point. If his four-and-a-half-year stint in Toronto is any indication, the Washington product won’t provide much help outside of scoring and three-pointers, but those in need of treys should give him a look as a specialist.

Other odds and ends

Plumlee-Nurkic trade: I already touched upon this briefly in Monday’s waiver-wire column, but with Jusuf Nurkic’s ownership percentage shooting up in recent days, it’s worth repeating before it’s too late. Unless Festus Ezeli makes a miraculous recovery, Nurkic will have very little competition for minutes at the 5 in Portland, making him a must-own in leagues of all sizes, particularly for owners in need of rebounds or blocks. There’s no guarantee he returns to his early-season form — he averaged 15.2 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 10.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals in just 27.4 minutes across his first five games — but it’s worth picking him up in case he does.

Plumlee, meanwhile, loses considerable value, as he’s moving from a starter in Portland to a presumptive backup in Denver. Owners in deeper leagues shouldn’t necessarily drop him right away — wait to see how his new role shakes out — but those in 10-team leagues will likely find higher-upside options on the waiver-wire between now and the trade deadline. If so, don’t hesitate to cut bait on Plumlee. 

Kevin Love injury: On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced Kevin Love will be out for approximately six weeks after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee. For owners in standard ESPN.com leagues, that puts his timetable to return firmly in the midst of the fantasy playoffs. Unless you’re in a keeper league, there is zero reason to hang on to Love, even if you have an IR spot on your roster. Even if he returns sans complications within his projected timetable, Cleveland has no incentive to play him heavy minutes heading into the postseason.

Though he won’t likely replicate Love’s production, Channing Frye figures to be the primary beneficiary of his absence if Tuesday’s game (21 points, 10 rebounds, four triples, two blocks) is any indication. Gordon, Nurkic or Ross should also be on the radar of Love owners, as all three carry far more rest-of-season value.

All rankings via Basketball Monster are based on nine-category leagues and are current heading into Wednesday, Feb. 15. All ownership percentages via ESPN.comAll average draft position info via FantasyPros.

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