Name: Serge Ibaka
Nickname: "Air Congo"
WTLC Fan Nicknames: "I-block-a", "Serge Protector"
Serge Ibaka is a 22 year old from the Republic of Congo, born in Brazzaville to a pair of basketball-playing parents. His father, Desire Ibaka, played for the Congolese National Team and his mother, Amadou Djonga, for the Democratic Republic of Congo. In what would be a difficult period early on in his life, Ibaka's mother died when he was only 8 years old. Within a year of her passing, the Second Congo war would begin and his father would be imprisoned. At the age of 17, Ibaka looked to leave the instability of his home country and journeyed to Spain where he joined the Spanish team DK Joventut. While Ibaka did play for Avenir du Rail in his native Congo, his performance in Spain would garner the attention of NBA scouts.
The Thunder selected Ibaka with the 24th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, making him the first person from the Republic of Congo to be drafted. Deciding to allow the talented but raw big man to remain in Spain for another year, Ibaka signed on with Ricoh Manresa from the Spanish ACB League. The Thunder retained the rights to buy out his contract and promptly did so in 2009 when they brought him to Oklahoma City.
Prior to the strike shortened 2011-2012 season, the expectations were stout for Air Congo. Having led the NBA with 198 blocked shots in the 2010-2011 season, there was talk, albeit optimistic talk, of contending for NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors. The stats on blocked shots were impressive to say the least, his 9.9 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game were also of note. Defensively, an area looked to be improved upon was his play outside of the post. At times, Ibaka could be taken advantage of by quicker players taking mid range shots. This is not to say that Ibaka is slow, he's not, but his quickness and reaction time can be improved upon. On offense, the expectations were to continue to develop an offensive post game for a Thunder offense that relied heavily on outside shooting. While not one of the "Big Three" for the Thunder, Ibaka had a great season with solid, consistent play. For 2011-2012 more of the same, with continued offensive development, was a realistic goal.
Regular Season Grade: A-
The statistics, at times, for Ibaka were brilliant. Namely, 3 different games in February with 10 or more blocked shots. One of those games, against Denver on 2/19, would provide a tripple-double. With 15 rebounds, 11 blocked shots, and 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting for the night, Ibaka laid claim to a franchise first triple double including rebounding stats. He posted 12 double-doubles, matching his total from the 2010-2011 season. At times, though, Ibaka would go missing on offense and on the boards.
After getting off to a disappointing start for the season in the first 3 games, with little to no offense to speak of and noticeably low minutes (21.7 average), Ibaka appeared to right the ship against Dallas on 12/19 in a game remembered for the Durant buzzer beater, going 6 for 9 with 16 points and 8 rebounds with 3 blocked shots. While things looked promising for a short while, it was mostly silence on the offensive end throughout a January that would be littered with inconsistency. After a poor showing against Detriot on 1/23 (3-10 shooting), things would appear to turn around with back to back quality efforts against New Orleans and Golden State. This was followed by a 1 for 4, 2 points, 1 block, and 5 rebound carnival of lackluster agains the Clippers. As January mercifully came to a close, February would prove to be a dramatic improvement. 5 double-doubles and 1 triple-double signified a return to what was expected out of Ibaka after the '10-'11 season. In February, he would average 9.4 points, 4.3 blocks, and 9.1 rebounds.
Ibaka's offensive contributions improved through the month of March, 10.4 points a game with a 56% average, and hold steady through April, but February was easily the breakout month for Air Congo. Reaching double digits in one game for blocked shots is extremely impressive. It's only happened 12 times in the past 10 years. Doing it 3 times in 1 month is just silly. To close out the regular season, Ibaka would finish second behind the Knick's Tyson Chandler for NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors. It's difficult to ignore the inconsistencies on offense as well as the poor showing prior to February, but the second half of the season earned Ibaka an B+/A-.
Post-Season Grade: (B-)
Round 1 vs. Dallas: B
Overall, it was a solid showing on defense. Dirk's stats weren't on par with what he did in the regular season and Ibaka played a part in that. The 4 blocks a game average was impressive, but foul trouble in games 2, 3, and 4 would dampen things a bit. Offense was, aside from game 2, equally respectable. In game 1, Ibaka would rack up 22 points on a 9-12 night with 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. Games 3 and 4 were also games to be pleased with, but not as impressive. Ibaka encountered some hardships in guarding Dirk on the perimeter, but that's to be expected. It's Dirk Nowitzki, these things happen. For further reference see the 2010-11 NBA playoffs. He's good at basketball.
Round 2 vs. Los Angeles: B-
Another respectable defensive showing, rendering Pau Gasol largely a non factor. Offensively, the performance was less than adequate with a 46.8% shooting percentage and 8.8 points per game. Ibaka would have a good night in game 4, going 7 for 11 with 14 points, but that was his only notable offensive performance for the series. Aside from grabbing 11 rebounds in game 3, his production on the boards was sub par at best with an average of 4.25 for the rest of the series. It's great when Ibaka can get some points, but his reason for existence (in terms of basketball) is rebounding and shot blocking. To put it lightly, 4 rebounds a game is unacceptable. It's like going to Chick-Fil-A and walking away with a salad. It's not coming up completely empty, but it's just not acceptable. I like rebounds and I like chicken sandwiches. Serge Ibaka is capable of rebounding in a quality equal to that of a spicy chicken sandwich, and he needed to do so more often in this series.
Round 3 vs. San Antonio: B
After a pair of unfortunate performances to open the series, including an almost nonexistent showing in game 1, Ibaka would find his jump shot in game 3. With Ibaka hitting his outside shots, it forced Duncan to move away from the rim and allowed more freedom to attack on offense. The only downside of game 3 was his poor showing on the boards with 3 rebounds. In game 4, Ibaka would have his best game of the playoffs and one of his best for the year. He was a perfect 11 for 11 shooting with 26 points. Rebounds were still a little on the low side, pulling down 5, but that shouldn't take away from the overall performance too much. Games 5 and 6 would see respectable offensive production, but not up to the level of game 4. Rebounds continued to be an issue as well, pulling down 5 in game 5 and 4 in game 6.
Finals vs. Miami: D
Absolutely nothing clicked. Ibaka was a farmer, pinning away in the vast, waiving fields of futility. Over the horizon one could see an ocean. That ocean's name? I can't remember, but I know it wasn't the Ocean of Offense. Definitely not that. Ocean of Rebound? No. Maybe the Sea of Defense? Not that either, but there were some impressive blocked shots. Game 2 would see 5 of them. But on the whole this was a bad series for Ibaka. There's no getting around that. 5.2 rebounds a game and 2 blocked shots will not win an NBA title. That much was proven. Not to blame the series on Ibaka, others played a part, but he flat out disappeared against the Heat.
Most Memorable Game:
Ibaka's 6 for 7 shooting with 14 points, 15 rebounds (8 on offense), and an insane 11 blocked shots marked the high point of his extraordinary month of February. His mid range jump shot showed what it can be capable of in addition to his talent at finding the put-back shots off of rebounds. With the 11 blocked shots, what was notable was that Ibaka kept the ball in play rather than batting the ball into the stands and giving the ball back to Denver. This also marked a first in franchise history, a player having a triple double that included blocked shots. The game will be remembered for Durant and Westrbook, but Ibaka's night was every bit as impressive.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
The 3 consecutive blocks in one possession against Cleveland was impressive, and there were a number of other blocked shots that one could go with, but you've got to love the Mutumbo finger wagging. That and it came against everyone's favorite person to hold a grudge against.
It's hard to imagine that Ibaka will do anything but improve upon his 2011-12 season. Finishing second or better in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting will be tough to pull off, but it's a realistic goal. Blocked shots and scoring in the restricted area will more than likely continue to work out for Ibaka, but what needs to be looked at is his consistency in general, and on offense and rebounding in particular. The NBA Finals left a bad taste, and you can't help but come away thinking that this is something Ibaka will work on in the off season.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations
Other Player Grades:
- Cole Aldrich
- Nick Collison
- Daequan Cook
- Derek Fisher
- James Harden
- Lazar Hayward
- Royal Ivey
- Reggie Jackson
- Eric Maynor
- Nazr Mohammed
- Kendrick Perkins
- Thabo Sefolosha