While perennial All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get the lion’s share of the shine (and rightfully so), Serge Ibaka has been a key cog in the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder in recent years, especially in the post-Harden era.
A physical presence who provides a deterrent in the paint on defense, while still having the mojo to go hard on O—he’s top 60 in the League in scoring—most of his stats are gained off the muscle. He seems to have no problem playing the role of third wheel and has the potential to be a double-double guy.
The 2013-14 season—his fifth in the League—saw Ibaka make his biggest step forward. He posted career highs in points (15.1), rebounds (8.8), steals (0.5) and assists (1).
Last season, he was again posting similar numbers with an added aspect to his game. Already possessing a solid mid-range jumper, Serge upped the ante by incorporating a three-point shot, essentially stretching defenses.
He attempted 205 three-point shots, 145 more than he took in 2013-14 season, in 34 less games, while shooting a solid 37 percent from long range. In comparison, KD shot 40 percent from downtown.
Ibaka missed the final 18 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to tend to lingering soreness in his knee. With Durant out due to a season-ending foot injury, OKC missed the Playoffs for the first time in Serge’s tenure with the team.
With a successful surgery under his belt, the PF and his band of brothers are looking make a deep run in the postseason in this upcoming season.
Still, questions remain for the former first-round round pick heading into the upcoming season.
Will he be hampered by a knee injury that prematurely ended his season in 2014-15? As the old saying goes, time heals all wounds, both literally and figuratively. Ibaka will have had eight months of solid rehab to get back into peak shape for the season.
He was held out of an NBA exhibition in Africa in August, but that was more than likely just a precaution. By the time the season rolls around in October, expect Serge to be in go mode.
Will his increased three-point output stretch defenses or offset the team’s balance?
Last season, Ibaka’s three-point attempts were way up. Was this more of a function of Durant’s absence? Or will Billy Donovan fully incorporate the big man’s new comfortability from beyond the arc into the offense when KD returns?
In the past couple of years, Ibaka has been one of the better big men when it comes to consistently knocking down the mid-range jumper in the pick-and-pop game, especially in ’12-13. Taking it a step further out could open clogged arteries in the paint allowing Westbrook and Durant to work their magic.
The 2015-16 Thunder are also looking at an upgraded three-big rotation with the edition of Enes Kanter and the return of defender Steven Adams who both compliment the all-purpose game of Ibaka.
The Congo kid dropped five spots from last year’s list. But expect a solid season from the seven-year vet. And don’t be surprised if at the end of the year when you look at the stat sheet you are seeing double (double).
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.