The Oklahoma City Thunder have jumped out to an 11-3 record, and have established themselves as one of the best teams in the league. Obviously, superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have brought the Thunder to where they are now. But forward Serge Ibaka has emerged from a nice piece in the frontcourt to a stud down low. Will this year be the year Ibaka finds his way onto the Western Conference All Star Team?
After coming into the NBA from Spain in the 2008 Draft, Ibaka has slowly developed from a raw, gangly shot-blocker to a legitimate offensive threat. As you can see from his 2009-10 shooting splits, he really didn’t stray from outside the paint. Because he was taking such high-percentage shots, he had an effective field goal percentage of .545. But he was only assisted on 65.2 percent of those shots, meaning that they weren’t drawing up plays specifically for him.
But as he has gained more experience, his shooting has expanded a lot more. In the 2012-13 season, he gained a better understanding as to where he can shoot from: around the rim, the top of the key, and the wings. His eFG% increased to .586, but more importantly, he was assisted on 337 of his field goals, which comes out to 75,6 percent. This is the best benchmark for Serge Ibaka’s offensive improvement. Coach Scott Brooks now trusts Ibaka to knock down an open jumper. Thus, to take pressure off Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, he’ll now occasionally run the offense through Ibaka. Last season, Ibaka’s offensive explosion was absolutely necessary, as they worked to replace James Harden‘s scoring prowess. And due to the Thunder’s great success, Ibaka did an admirable job.
But it’s been the 2013-14 season where Ibaka has not only improved his shooting, but also stepped up his rebounding and blocking. Interestingly, Ibaka’s 2-point field goal percentage has gone down. But that’s credit to his inspired confidence in taking those shots. Personally, I’d rather see him take more of those shots than play scared offensively. But so far, his 14.9 points per game this season is his highest points average. So far, he’s attempted 166 field goals, but 64 of those were catch-and-shoot attempts. It’s this facet of Ibaka’s game where he’s improved the most. He’s made 50.8 percent of those catch-and-shoot attempts, making him one of the best big men in the league in that category. He’s also taken care of the ball better this year, lowering his turnover percentage from 12.7 to 8.9 per game.
With two 1st-Team All Defensive-Team honors, Serge Ibaka has always excelled in defending and rebounding. While his block numbers have decreased from his other-worldly numbers in 2011-12 (a 9.8 block percentage!!!), he’s averaging 2.6 blocks per game so far, and is feared around the league for his prowess down low. He’s always had strong blocking instincts, unlike with rebounding. He only averaged 5.4 rebounds per game in his rookie year, but he’s elevated that to 10.4 per game this season. That’s because he’s improved dealing with contested rebounds. He no longer fears contact down low, and is one of the league leaders in contested rebounds per game, with 4.8. That only trails Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, and Anthony Davis. That’s impressive company.
Serge Ibaka is no longer looked at as the guy who the Thunder mistakenly chose to give the big contract over James Harden. He’s been a revelation to this year’s highly successful Thunder squad. But will that correlate into an All-Star appearance? As we all know, the Western Conference is stacked, especially with big men. In my opinion, his competition consists of LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Love. Some of those guys will get some votes just because of their name (hey, Dwight). But I think Serge Ibaka has proved he belongs with those guys.
I know my All-Star ballot will include Serge Ibaka. And even if he doesn’t make the team, that won’t take away from his fantastic season.