Ibaka had been one of the most sought after pieces on the free agent market. Links to the Nets and Rockets came a few days ago, and some had suggested the Lakers as a potential destination.
After Montrezl Harrell left the Clippers to join the nearby reigning champions, the Clips’ desperation for a big man became greater still. There were still plenty of decent players available, but there’s no question that Ibaka was the premier name on the market.
The former Thunder big man chose to reunite with Kawhi Leonard, who he won a title with in Toronto, and likely turned down bigger contracts elsewhere. This was no veteran minimum ring chase from Ibaka, this is a cheap price for his services, for sure, but he’s going to be a key component on one of the title favourites.
Ibaka’s defensive fit
Listed at 7’0, Ibaka brings size that the Clippers lacked in 2019/20. He’s a massive defensive upgrade on Harrell on size alone, but he’s a smarter defender, and he uses that length well. Although not the block machine he was in his Oklahoma City days, he’s still got the athleticism to protect the rim.
Ibaka improves the Clippers defensively. He’s not anything like the pick-and-roll player Harrell is at the other end, but he’s developed into an efficient perimeter scorer, something Harrell cannot offer. The former Magic centre hit nearly 40% from beyond the arc last season on 3.3 attempts per game.
The majority of his minutes will be as a stretch five alongside Leonard and Paul George, but that shooting gives Ty Lue the option to use Ibaka as four. They can run super-big line-ups, something that could be very valuable against the Lakers. What about a Luke Kennard, George, Leonard, Ibaka and Ivica Zubac line-up? Or they can put Ibaka at centre and run smaller line-ups, surrounded by shooting.
Ibaka is a great fit on the Clippers. Their chances of toppling the Lakers got a lot better with this signing. The Lakers will feel they have improved too, trading for Dennis Schroder and signing Harrell and Wesley Matthews. LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be favourites until a team proves they can be beaten in a seven-game series; rightly so.
Getting a player who is not only a basketball fit, but who has won before, who has built a relationship with the team’s best player, is a real coup for the Clippers. It’s a signing that closes the gap in Los Angeles, and the Clips desperately needed that after seeing Harrell join the Lakers.