It has been a gradual development, but Oklahoma City Thunder fans have unmistakably noticed the improvement of Serge Ibaka's jump-shot over time. In his first three seasons in the NBA, Ibaka grew from a hesitant perimeter shooter to a reliable midrange threat. His improvement reached new heights last season as Ibaka began to show a consistent three-point jump-shot that we hadn't seen before.
Last season, Ibaka made 0.3 threes per game on 35.1% shooting. After making just two threes in the first three years of his career, he exploded for 20 triples this past season on what was a pretty solid percentage, all things considered. For comparison, Chris Bosh, widely considered one of the better 3-point shooting power forwards, made only 21 3-pointers this past season and shot 28.4% from beyond the arc.
Ibaka's calling card will probably always be as a shot-blocker, but he's carved out a niche role offensively with his jumper and improved range. For a long time, it was a work in progress, and it probably still is. However, Ibaka has already done an incredible job just in developing his jump-shot to what it is now. For the Thunder, Ibaka has become a legitimate and reliable weapon.
Let's look at two of Ibaka's shot charts as a rookie. The first one is a shot distribution chart and the second one is a shot performance chart, both courtesy of NBA.com:
As you can see, Ibaka seldom used his jump-shot in his rookie season. Most of his shots came at the rim, and 22.2% of his shots came from 10-16 feet (the second tier of hot spot zones around the basket). Shots from 16 feet to the three-point line, a much deeper part of midrange than the previous zones, accounted for just 14.1% of his field goal attempts.
Though used sparingly, Ibaka showed a glimpse of a reliable jump-shot, which was plenty enough for a rookie big man. While he struggled with consistency, he did manage to shoot above league average (represented by the green zones) in some areas, even if his attempts in those areas were a little scaled back compared to other areas. For the Thunder back then, this was something they could take and continue to develop going forward.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Ibaka's shooting game is how convenient it is to slot into a team with two established scoring options. Ibaka lives almost entirely off of his teammates, which is a necessary thing since both Westbrook and Durant accumulate high usage rates. 89.6% of Ibaka's made midrange shots outside of the paint were assisted upon, and this went up to 95.0% on threes (just one of twenty made three-pointers were unassisted on all season long). A player with a subtle catch-and-shoot mentality like Ibaka makes a perfect offensive complement for any team, and the Thunder have the gifted offensive talents that Ibaka can thrive upon.