(What if the 1996 Sonics and the 2012 Thunder faced off in a playoff series? The next matchup featured on WTLC and Sonics Rising is a battle of power forwards with Serge Ibaka going head-to-head with Shawn Kemp.)
The 1996 Seattle Supersonics were transcendent. They were revolutionary. The original Lob City. And it all started with Shawn Kemp. Kemp was and always will be one of the all time best dunkers. He was not the type to lay it up or take a mid range shot if it was open. (That's not to say he was a sub-par shooter....he was a decent mid-range shooter) If you were in his way...sorry. It was as if he had beef with the basket. Nothing could stop Reign Man in 1996. Kemp was like nothing anybody had ever seen. He was powerful with his dunks, slick with his post moves, and downright intimidating.
1996 was the year Seattle had finally reached their destination--the NBA Finals. They trucked their way through treacherous opponents, the defending champ Houston Rockets were no match for Kemp and his squad. However, Michael Jordan and his Bulls were too much for the electric group of dunkers to handle.
While Shawn Kemp was one of the league's best rim finishers, Serge Ibaka is a leading rim protector. The thing about looking at this Kemp/Ibaka matchup is that they practically contradict each other. Kemp can attack the rim and Ibaka will be standing there waiting for the block. Same goes for Serge on offense. The interesting part about this matchup is not just their differences...they share a lot of the same traits. Both are freakish athletes and thrived in their league off of their athleticism at their respective eras. Watching them jump was mesmerizing. Both are vertically gifted at 6-10. Incorporating Serge's 15 pound weight advantage is meaningless because of the technology and other factors that make professionals look even more godly. Putting up Ibaka and Kemp is a matchup made in heaven and one that all NBA fans would die to see. To crown a victor here, we've got to break down their strengths and weaknesses. Looks like we have no other option...
When examining Shawn Kemp's offensive dominance, statistics cannot be the only source to determine his skills. If dunking power was apart of the box score, let's just say Kemp would beat out everyone.
The Reign Man was in his 7th season in 1996 while Serge Ibaka was just a 3 year man during 2012, so Kemp has the upper hand with his experience and feel for the game.
In just his third season, Serge Ibaka was developing nicely for a late first round selection. He was in the midst of discovering his mid-range talent. To give you an idea of his inability to shoot: Ibaka took 60 threes in 2014 and just 2 in 2012. His inside game was solid and he liked to score most of his points in the paint. As a passer, Ibaka was still learning. Could he move the ball like Joakim Noah? No. But he was decent...not good...decent.
Shawn Kemp's offense made him the Reign Man. He was not one to dribble through 5 defenders, crossing each one up as he passed--though he was a good ball handler on the break. He was the type of player to take 1 or 2 dribbles from the foul line and slam a dunk down with a taunting to top it off. Kemp notoriously sat on Dennis Rodman's head after slamming one down. The man was fearless. Not only was Kemp known for his ability to finish at the rim, he was also a decent passer and ball mover. Better than Ibaka at least. Turnovers were a problem for Kemp. Every 100 possessions, he would turn it over 20 times. While he struggled with 4 turnovers per game, he cleaned up with averages of 19 PPG on 56 percent shooting. In 2012, Ibaka was not as strong as he is today so Kemp would have no trouble knocking the kid down. Serge was a phenomenal defender...Kemp was an even better finisher.
Here is a department that Ibaka may edge out Kemp. In just his third season, Serge was atop the NBA in blocks per game with 3.7. That number alone speaks volumes. Keep in mind, the 2012 Serge was not such a talented defender in open court, however he was still the rim protector we know and love.
Shawn Kemp was no defensive liability either. Like Ibaka, he was a solid rim protector and one that was fearless. He was such a physical player that he averaged nearly 4 fouls per game in 1996--this derives from his no-fear, no-mercy mentality. Rebounding was no problem for Reign Man either. Kemp averaged 11 rebounds per game simply because he was that much more athletic than his peers. And his hops were just other-worldly.
The winner in this aspect is Serge, however, against an offensive power house like Shawn Kemp, it is unknown what the end result would be.
Advanced statistics are a huge part of player analysis today. Which is why we must take a look at how these two size up in an advanced format. Kemp was an enormous part of the Sonics' offense. His 26 percent usage rate speaks for itself. With a showy point guard like Gary Payton and a human highlight reel like Shawn Kemp, the point guard clearly wants the highlights reel to make an impressive play--which is why he got the ball so often. In almost every measurement, Kemp beats out Ibaka immensely, except for block percentage. It is clear that he was a much more important part of the team than Serge was.
The Round Up
It is clear to see who the victor is here...Shawn Kemp. It is as simple as: he was better at the time. That's not to say that Serge will never be as good as Kemp was. During his time in Seattle, Shawn Kemp was unexplainably powerful. He was like a god to the fans and a freak on the court. While Serge would put up a fight, Kemp was just too dominant to be stopped. It was Michael Jordan's greatness that took down the Reign Man in 1996.