(WTLC begins its final preparation for the regular season with our annual player profile previews. Each player gets a dual analysis as well as a grade of our expectations for each. See the grading scale at the bottom.)
|Year in NBA||5|
|Nicknames||"Serge Protector," "I-Block-a"|
|2012-13 Stats||13.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 0.5 AST, 0.4, 3.0 BLK 0.5 TO|
|Past Accolades||2x All-NBA Defensive 1st Team, 2x Blocks Leader|
|Contract Status||1st year of 4 year, $49 million deal|
Serge Ibaka is most intriguing player on the entire Thunder roster. I say this because with with his age (24) and time served in the NBA (entering his fifth year) his size (6'10") and his skill set (offensively and defensively) I still look at Ibaka and think that he should and could be more than he was last year. Has Ibaka hit his ceiling? Is it possible for him to reach beyond what he has already become in the NBA? I do not think he has hit his ceiling yet by a long shot. That is what is so frustrating about Serge Ibaka.
In case you are new to anything I have written James Harden was traded and is not walking through that door. That meant the Thunder were shared my mindset that Ibaka can still take that next step to becoming an elite offensive player. Over the years Ibaka's offensive numbers have steadily increased and last season he averaged a career high 13.2 points per game. He has added a decent three point shot to his game to help compliment his nice mid-range jumper. The biggest area Ibaka needs to improve his offensive game is in the post. There were many times last year in the playoffs where Ibaka looked like he was allergic to the paint. The lack of diversity in his offensive game greatly hurt the Thunder's offensive once Russell Westbrook was injured. All of the other team's defensive energy was able to focus on Kevin Durant and they would over load the perimeter because there was now post threat. If Ibaka is ever able to develop any kind of offensive post game then the Thunder have a great chance of become a complete offensive team.
Another aspect where a more complete offensive game by Ibaka is critical is when it comes to his rebounding ability. Last season Ibaka averaged 7.7 rebounds per game, which is an okay number and all but it really should be higher than that. With Ibaka's athletic ability and his go-go gadget arms he should easily be in the double-digit rebounds. Here is where having a post game will benefit Ibaka's rebounding game. Last season Ibaka averaged 2.8 offensive rebounds per game. A lot of that is because it is hard to grab offensive boards when you are hanging out 20+ feet from the basket shooting jumpers. Ibaka needs to be a force on the glass on both ends of the floor and physically being in the paint is a great way to start doing that. Ibaka is one of those rare talents in the NBA. If he is able to transition from being the freak NBA talented athlete and become that NBA freak player then there is a good chance the loss of James Harden is softened this season.
Serge Ibaka is often offered as the counterpart to the James Harden trade. Critics say that the Thunder gave up on a bona fide superstar in Harden, and in exchange kept a still raw player who can only block shots and make jumpers. What these critics will disregard however is how radically different Ibaka looks today from even 2 seasons ago.
Go ahead, look up the footage of Ibaka in 2010 when he started the season coming off the bench. Yes, he still had a mechanically sound jumper, but Ibaka's lack of court awareness, over-reliance on his athletic ability (which led to extra fouls), and his inability to catch anything below the waste left fans often frustrated as he would miss rebounds and blow layups.
The player that we see today is none of those things. Ibaka rarely mishandles bounce passes anymore, he can dribble comfortably with either hand, he has added a jump hook that he can shoot with either hand, and his court awareness and defensive presence has solidified. He averaged a career-high 13 PPG last year, but even that seemed low, given how well Ibaka can score baskets now. Here is what Tom Ziller had to say:
Ibaka is a low-usage player. Even as his star improves, he's pretty allergic to taking shots that haven't been explicitly set up for him. This is an unabashed good thing most of the time, because he plays with the game's best scorer in Durant and its top creator in Westbrook. No one benefits more from Westbrook's aggression than Ibaka. And the fact that Ibaka has become a really good mid-range shooter helps Westbrook's assist numbers, of course. Last season, Ibaka hit 48 percent of his shots from 10-23 feet, which is basically Nowitzkian. Of Ibaka's 194 makes in that range, 87 percent of them were assisted.
But here's the thing with Ibaka: he has a whole lot of efficiency to lose before he's deemed ineffective.
For all of Ibaka's youthful inexperience, he is a remarkably efficient scorer when he is given opportunity. You might argue, "so what happened to him in last year's playoffs?" It's all about opportunity. Give Ibaka opportunity to finish plays, and he will do so. Even better, he has proven in his short career that he will continue to get better at an amazing pace.
And that is just the offense. Defensively, Ibaka is now the cornerstone for one of the best defenses in the league, a defense that helped propel the Thunder to a 9.2 average point differential on the year (one of the best historical marks ever) while sending his All-Star buddies to the sidelines in the 4th quarter because they were winning in a rout.
Harden is a great player, yes. It was tragic that OKC lost him. Don't forget about Ibaka's trajectory though; he too might earn his way to the All-Star game, and better yet, his ability on both ends of the court is what makes OKC a true contender.
|A||Player has exceedingly high expectations attainable only if they play to their fullest ability.|
|B||Player has reasonably high expectations that are attainable.|
||Player has moderate expectations which should be met with little trouble.|
||Player has moderate expectations but will struggle to meet them.|
||Player should not be on the Thunder roster.|