Top 50: Serge Ibaka, no. 39

by Kye Stephenson

Like just about every other player on our annual Top 50 list, Serge Ibaka coming in at No. 39 will be too high for some and too low for others. Indeed, this list is simply a combination of me and my colleague’s individual rankings, which then gets calculated based on a proprietary algorithm chief Ryne Nelson developed. (OK, I made that last part up.)

Ranking anything is tough business. So I decided to give you an inside look at the in-depth breakdown I do for every player when coming up with these rankings. (That’s a lie, but so what.) This will give you a somewhat clear and concise overview of the player and an argument for higher or lower. You can make your own conclusion on Ibaka’s ranking from there. (Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it either way, but still.)

For those of you that think Ibaka should be ranked lower, or not at all, I present to you the following:

1. Ibaka averaged 3.03 blocks per game last season to lead the League for the second year in a row. He was also named to the NBA All-Defensive First-Team for the second consecutive year. Simply put, he is the NBA’s premier shot blocker.

2. He shot 58 percent from the field last season, which was fourth in the NBA. Not too shabby considering he has developed a solid mid-range jumpshot and doesn’t stay glued in the paint.

3. As any Jay-Z fan knows, numbers don’t lie. So when we delve into some advanced metrics, Ibaka’s Top 50 ranking in two key categories is telling. Ibaka averaged a 19.4 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) last season, which ranks ahead of players like David Lee, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. (For those wondering, LeBron James had the highest PER last season at 31.6.) As well, among players who averaged 30-plus minutes per game, Ibaka had the fifth highest True Shooting Percentage last year at 61.2 percent. Only Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler ranked ahead of him.

4. Serge is only 24 years old and just finished his fourth full season in the NBA. He put up career highs in field-goal percentage, rebounds and points, with the biggest jump coming in PPG, where he improved to 13.2 from 9.1 the year prior. The departure of James Harden left the Thunder looking for buckets in other areas and Ibaka stepped up his game. Coming into his fifth year, it’s reasonable to assume Ibaka will keep improving as a scoring threat and, coupled with his rebounding and shot-blocking, makes him an invaluable player.

5. Ibaka speaks five languages. Yes, five. Enough said.

Now, for those who believe Ibaka got jipped and should be placed higher on this list, I make the following argument:

1. For all of his prowess as an elite shot-blocker, Ibaka’s rebounding was subpar. At 7.7 per game, he wasn’t even in the top 20 in that category last year. A true power forward, Ibaka averaged less boards than teammate Kevin Durant (7.9). With the deterioration of Kendrick Perkins, Ibaka’s rebounding was underwhelming.

2. Ibaka’s aforementioned 19.4 PER is exactly the same as Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe, who came in at No. 47 on our list.

3. Despite an improving jumpshot, Ibaka’s back-to-the-basket repertoire is severely lacking. With Perkins basically non-existent offensively, OKC is in desperate need of a low-post scorer and someone who can draw defenders off their array of shooters. Ibaka has yet to fill that void.

4. It could be argued that Ibaka was a letdown last year. With Harden leaving, OKC fans could still take solace in the fact they had an emerging stud at power forward. Maybe the bar was set too high, but outside of his rim protection, Ibaka’s 13.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg seems less than what he’s capable of. He ended last season with 15 double-doubles. Fifteen! That’s less than Spencer Hawes and the same number as Jeff Teague.

So there it is. Both sides of the fence. As you can see, there are arguments to be made both ways. But from what I can tell, it looks like we’ve got the OKC big man pegged about right. And just think, this is only No. 39 on our list. Just wait ’til we hit the top 10.

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.