OKC Thunder: Serge Ibaka Overlooked By Billy Donovan In Orlando

Feb 9, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oklahoma City Thunder transform into a scary team when Kevin Durant plays the 4. They always have.

Durant operating from that position was as prominent as ever in the team’s double-overtime win over the Orlando Magic Friday night. For most of the second half, Billy Donovan went with Durant at the 4, using him as a screener some, but mostly having him space the floor while Russell Westbrook worked out of high pick-and-rolls.

We’ve seen Durant play the 4 before. Scott Brooks used him there at times, just never as much as Donovan did Friday. What was different was the other players making up the small-ball lineup for the Thunder.

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When the Thunder started coming back, Enes Kanter was the center. The Thunder needed to score a lot to overcome the double-digit deficit so Kanter made a lot of sense here. But the Turkish big man fouled out with 21 seconds left in regulation. Donovan then turned to Steven Adams, not Serge Ibaka, to replace Kanter.

Ibaka made brief appearances in the two overtimes, but it was clearly Adams that Donovan was more comfortable with in that situation.

Reading body language, Ibaka appeared put off. He wasn’t as enthusiastic as the other players on the bench during the game’s exciting moments. That’s not typical of Ibaka, who does show a lot of emotion and isn’t one to shy away from cheering on his teammates.

My guess: Ibaka was confused. You can’t blame him either.

It’s been a long time since Ibaka was looked over for another player. You’d have to go back really to about 2011 when he was coming off the bench. It was Nick Collison and Jeff Green getting playing time over him then and Ibaka was still so raw, so young and still learning.

The odd thing is that Ibaka seems to be the perfect fit at the 5 when the Thunder go small. You’d want your 5 to be one that is really good on defense because it becomes tougher to protect the paint with just one big out there. Ibaka is a guy that is year after year in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.

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What was Donovan thinking?

You can’t really say Donovan made the wrong choice. The Thunder won the game. The offense was humming. The defense got better down the stretch.

Donovan may see Ibaka as more of a pick-and-pop guy (which he is) and that Adams and Kanter are better at rolling to the rim out of the pick-and-roll. I think you can safely say Kanter is better at that but Adams certainly doesn’t have a reputation for being more of a threat rolling to the rim than Ibaka. Maybe he has that reputation in Donovan’s eyes.

More than likely, it was just situational. I don’t think it’s a thing where Donovan favors Adams over Ibaka in small lineups. He may favor Kanter at times and that’s more understandable, but Ibaka makes a lot of sense in those units too. Donovan was probably just going with his gut in the moment and was feeling Adams.

Ibaka has really struggled with his shot in these first two games (4-for-12 vs. Orlando, 4-for-9 vs. San Antonio) as well. Donovan may have sensed that he was a little in his head and didn’t feel Ibaka shooting was that good of an option. We’ve seen Donovan really experiment with a lot of different lineups so far and it’s not like Ibaka hasn’t been apart of those. He’s averaging 34.5 minutes.

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Maybe the most concerning thing from the decision that night is how Ibaka might be affected by it. He might take it personal and respond poorly. He could of course come away from it motivated and play better, too. The one thing that is certain, Ibaka noticed he was overlooked, and I don’t think he loved it.