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Southeast Division Player to watch: Serge Ibaka

The former Thunder forward enters a very different situation in Orlando.

NBA: Orlando Magic-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the NBA made ‘Most Interesting Man In the World’ commercial, a good choice for them to feature would be Serge Ibaka. He plays for Spain and is truly a global player who focuses a lot of time helping to grow the sport in his native Africa along with many various philanthropic efforts. Serge’s life isn’t just interesting off the court, he had a pretty wild offseason too. Ibaka was traded to Orlando on June 23 in a move that many did not see coming.

Ibaka is a new face to the Southeast division and he’s playing without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the first time in his career. Having been traded from an ideal playing situation to a considerably less desirable one, it is time to see what Ibaka is made of. Serge will anchor a young, but talented Orlando squad that has high hopes for the season. Despite trading Victor Oladipo and the No.11 pick away for Ibaka, the Magic still have Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon as building blocks plus steady big man Nic Vucivec. Can his experience playing for one of the best teams of the last half decade provide this young group with the veteran leadership it needs to become more than a group of highly drafted parts and coalesce into a real team?

At face value it seems that Ibaka provides nothing to help rectify Orlando’s biggest issue last season, spacing. He’s is a good shooter for a power forward but when opposing defenses can sag so far off of your guards that Ibaka’s ability to shoot likely won’t make a demonstrable difference on the court. However, his presence does give Orlando a big name and reason for casual fans to tune in. I’m not sure how a front court rotation of Nic Vucivec, Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo can coexist, but boy, I am excited to see them try.

Ibaka will also have to deal with receiving the lion’s share of the opposing teams efforts on both ends of the court as he is far and away the best overall player on Orlando, something that could never be said when he was with the Thunder. It remains to be seen if Ibaka and Biyombo, can play together but if they can pray for opposing offenses. If anyone can figure out how to make the defensive pairing work its new head coach Frank Vogel, who helped Roy Hibbert become a dominant force when he was with Indiana Pacers. Ibaka should also be an ideal mentor for Aaron Gordon, who many see as Orlando’s best young player. The electric dunker would be smart to absorb as much information about being a professional basketball player as he can from Ibaka.

It will be fun to see Ibaka tackle this new professional challenge throughout this season. The Southeast Division is not the most competitive division in the NBA and the young magic could be a headache defensively for a lot of opponents. If Ibaka and Vogel are able to bring some professionalism and experience to a young Magic team, they may be able to make more noise than folks are expecting them to.