Serge Ibaka emerged last season as the league's best and most athletic shot blocker and in the process helped shore up a Thunder front line that was strong enough to make it all the way to the Finals. Now that Serge is under contract for the next four years and is considered a foundational piece, how can he take the next steps forward?
|Year in NBA
|"Serge Protector," "I-Block-a"
|9.1 PPG, 6.9 RPB, 0.3 APG, 2.4 BL, 0.4 ST, 1.2 TO
|2012 All-Defensive 1st Team, 2012 Blocks Champion, 2012 Defensive Player Runner Up, 2012 Olympic Basketball Team for Spain
|2011-12 Season End Review
|No major injuries, did not miss a game in 2011-12
|Recently signed to a 4 year, $48 million extension
Serge Ibaka is this team's biggest enigma. He's developed well over the past couple of years, going from an example of raw, untrained athleticism to being a serviceable scorer and the NBA's best shot blocker. To put it more bluntly, this guy went from being regularly called for three in the key and travelling to what you see today.
But he's an enigma because everybody doesn't really know what to make of his progress. Just two years ago, we weren't trusting him with the ball, and now it seems that Scott Brooks is almost ready to green light him to shoot threes. He can hit jump shots regularly, and his post moves have seen improvement. But just how far can his offense take him? For every game we see that he's a regular contributor, it seems he counters it with a game where he looks hopelessly average, almost Nick Collison-like. I mean, the guy is never disastrous by any means, but sometimes I really wish we could look to him on offense, especially with the lack of post options on this roster.
So, for me and many fans, the key word for Serge Ibaka this season will be consistency. He's not expected to lead the offense in the fourth quarter, and he's not expected to be a leader. But if he can hammer out consistent production offensively and on the boards to where he becomes a double-double type of guy, then this team could be in for a serious run. However, if he stays inconsistent, then I doubt many fans will blame him for the team's failures, because he's only the fourth man. So unless his defense somehow falters, he should meet his expectations easily this season.
Serge Ibaka is the one guy on the team who is still trying to fulfill his prodigious potential. Ibaka is a physical freak of which most pro athletes can only dream. He is still extremely raw in terms of his basketball fundamentals, yet we have seen enough of him to know that if he is given the proper guidance he could easily be a #2 scorer on a playoff team. And yet, all of his 2011-12 numbers were down from a year before. Why?
I think a big part of Ibaka's inconsistency last season was that the Thunder were not using him in the best way possible. Where in 2010-11 Ibaka's primary game was in shooting mid-range jumpshots and being aggressive around the rim, in 20110-12 he seemed to float around on offense too much. A reduction in high screen and roll play-calling also reduced his open shot attempts (Nick Collison, too) and as a result Ibaka would have huge offensive games on one night and on the next night would barely register in the box score.
Here is an idea - instead of OKC starting every game giving Kendrick Perkins a few shots at scoring out of the post, why not give those touches to Ibaka? He has a better shooting touch, is much quicker, has a better handle, and finishes better. And for the love of Scott Brooks' hair, please stop setting up 3-point shot attempts for him. Yes, we know he has 3-point range. The problem though is that OKC already has plenty of other 3-point shooters who can get their shot in the normal flow of offense. They don't need Ibaka to be filling that role. Rather, they need Ibaka to be playing within 5 feet of the rim where he can post up, position, finish plays, and grab offensive rebounds. If you play him 25 feet from the rim, Ibaka's main usefulness is eliminated.
On defense, Ibaka has made himself into the most feared shot-blocker in the game. Statistically, a 10 block game is about as rare as a 50 point scoring game, and yet Ibaka pulled off that feat THREE times last year alone. He alters games with his defense, and OKC needs that influence to keep defenses honest. That said, Ibaka still has much to learn about playing position defense, dealing with other post-up bruisers around the league. Guys like Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge, and even LeBron James have a field day against Ibaka because he's still learning the ropes.
Ibaka was given the big payday in the offseason, but now is the time to show the growth that the payday is supposed to justify.
|Player has exceedingly high expectations attainable only if they play to their fullest ability.
|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.