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Fantasy HQ: Serge Ibaka to be an early season staple for Raptors’ offense

This season Raptors HQ is introducing a fantasy basketball column for all the stat-heads out there. Stop by every Monday for a recap of the week’s best performances as well as some insight into who to watch during the upcoming slate.

2019 NBA Japan Games: Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the new Fantasy HQ! Each week we’ll be outlining a group of Raptor players that, in our opinion, you can confidently trot out in your weekly lineups, as well as highlighting some sleeper players from around the NBA to keep an eye on in your fantasy league — including guys to target in trade or on waivers, buy-low/sell-high candidates and overall advice on players from your favorite NBA team — the Toronto Raptors.

Disclaimer: The column and its opinions will operate with standard nine category, head-to-head scoring formats in mind. Nine category leagues include scoring for FG%, FT%, 3PM, Points, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks and Turnovers.

With that out of the way, let’s begin!

Serge Ibaka’s Early Season Brilliance

Last season, Serge Ibaka lit the nets on fire offensively while rotating with Jonas Valanciunas as the Raptors’ starting centre. His chemistry with Kyle Lowry was the best we’ve seen since Ibaka came to town in 2017, and judging by his usage and efficiency during the preseason, I see no reason why he can’t replicate his gaudy numbers this season — especially when taken into account the nearly 20 shots per game that Kawhi Leonard’s departure vacated.

He’s currently being valued as an 8th round pick (in 10-team formats) while being ranked as roughly the 18th to 20th best power forward. Through 22 games last season (October and November) Serge Ibaka averaged 16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, while blocking 1.4 shots and making a total of 16 three pointers. Missing only one game in that span, Ibaka provided incredible value for a mid-draft pick.

This season he should be eligible to play both power forward and centre, providing excellent flexibility for your roster. In addition, I see no reason why he can’t replicate the blistering start he had last year, given that he has been operating close to the basket offensively during the preseason.

Whatever Ibaka does in the offseason, he’s entered the past two seasons with extreme focus. Overall, it’s likely the opening months will be the healthiest games of the season — given the amount of rest his body accrues during the summer. If you’re able to grab him in the 7th to 9th range as your third big, don’t hesitate. He could be a staple in your lineup all year, and a wonderful value option in trades if he begins to show signs of slipping as the year wears on.

ESPN is Sleeping on Toronto’s Guards

Outside of Kyle Lowry, who is ranked as the 12th best point guard this year (and overall, a 4/5th round pick), Fred VanVleet currently sits outside the top 100, and Norm Powell isn’t even ranked in their top-200 list. Here’s a couple reasons why that’s insane:

Fred VanVleet looked unstoppable Friday night, and throughout the preseason overall. Clearly carrying no hangover effects from his summer of celebration, the sharpshooter will have ample opportunity to let the ball fly this season as a possible starting shooting guard next to Lowry. If this is the case, VanVleet should see a good 12 shots per game, and is a likely candidate to average anywhere from 12-15 points per contest. In addition to playing the 2-guard next to Lowry in starting lineups, he’ll also likely captain the bench unit at times — pairing him up with Ibaka, whom he seems to have gotten a lot more comfortable with.

I’m not guaranteeing starting quality averages from Fred this year, but 12 points and six assists (at the very least) with a high 3PM count is well worth a 10th round pick. And if he outplays those numbers, you’ll look like a genius for nabbing him a round early. In my opinion, he’s well worth the gamble considering the upside he currently has in the new Raptors’ offense.

Norm Powell, who will be vying for shooting guard minutes with VanVleet, didn’t crack the top-200 list. This is blasphemous! The Raptors offense is attempting to make up 19 shots and 27 points per game with Leonard out of the picture. While Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry could get an uptick in both areas, Powell will almost certainly be able to provide double digit scoring averages, as well as threes, steals and the occasional five-assist game. So far, Powell has grown into an excellent 3-and-D wing, playing within the offense and finding minutes based on his defensive ability.

Consider Powell a deep-sleeper that you can confidently scoop off the waivers in week one — unless you already drafted him!

Projecting Marc Gasol’s Role

Gasol is an interesting case. He’s valued as roughly a 9th round pick, but judging by the Raptors’ need for scoring, and the overall willingness to go full-bore as a fast-paced, ball movement offense, Gasol could easily see his best assist numbers since 2016-17 when he averaged 4.6 dimes per game. With a full training camp under his belt, the veteran is sure to know his role to a “T,” meaning there won’t be any miscommunications or confusion about where he fits in. As a high-post passing wizard surrounded by elite cutting options in OG Anunoby and Norm Powell, Gasol will have every opportunity to be the league’s best passing big man outside of Nikola Jokic.

In addition to high assist numbers, Gasol could be leaned on to take as many open threes as he can handle, giving him even more value as a mid-draft centre. The only downside is that he is one-position eligible, making his flexibility an issue. However, if you had to pick one centre-only player for your team, you could do a lot worse than Marc Gasol, whose 3PM and assist numbers will possibly launch him into the top-10 conversation at his position by season’s end.

For Next Week:

  • Recap the week’s best Raptor performances
  • Take a look at the best players from around the league
  • Waiver wire options (ESPN, Yahoo leagues)

Thanks for reading the inaugural Fantasy HQ! Leave some feedback below on what you’d like to see, and discuss your picks for the weeks ahead!