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Marc Gasol

Should Nick Nurse start Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka at center?

The impending return of grizzled veteran Marc Gasol marks an interesting conundrum for head coach Nick Nurse, who must now decide who will get the nod at center from here on out.

While Serge Ibaka is likely to keep his job, for the time being, Nurse must examine if he should eventually give the Spaniard his starting spot back at some point in January once he’s gotten his cardio back on midseason level.

Ibaka is undoubtedly one of the best runs of his career since Dec. 18, when Gasol went out after seven minutes with a left hamstring strain in the first quarter of a road game against the Detroit Pistons — now returning nearly a month after first suffering the injury.

All the Congo native has done since then is step up, starting with his 25 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Detroit. Since then, Ibaka has put up double figures in 12 of his last 13 games, including double-digit rebounds in 10 of them, including double-doubling in his last eight.

In those 13 games, Ibaka is averaging a whopping 18.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game — numbers too big to ignore for a coach trying to reel his team back into the top four of the Eastern Conference, only a half-game ahead of the fifth-place Indiana Pacers.

The Raptors are only 7-6 in those games, but it hasn’t been Ibaka’s production that has hurt them.

Though one could argue Gasol’s numbers have been far from what the Raptors first bargained for when trading for him nearly a year from now, as his 6.6 points and 6.6 rebounds through 27 games have fallen well short of what he’s been known to be capable of producing.

While the 7-foot-1 behemoth offers more than his scoring and rebounding, Nurse can’t deny the impact Ibaka has had keeping this team afloat with key absences like Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, and recently Fred VanVleet.

A run of this kind can be hard to come by, but it’s something Ibaka can maintain if he’s allowed to keep the starting gig at center.

For what it’s worth, the Raptors could decide to sell high on Ibaka and trade his expiring contract before the deadline, but if they’re willing to fearlessly make another playoff run with this roster, Nurse should keep his best-performing players on the floor and therefore allow Ibaka to keep thriving with this unit.