Serge Ibaka was something special his rookie year. He exploded late in the season and made a big push to be a starter over Nenad Krstic. Final month of season, Ibaka averaged 10.0 points per game, along with 7.4 rebounds. Also averaged 1.9 blocks. In the playoffs, he just was a dominate force against the Los Angeles Lakers. In Game 2 of the First round against LA, Ibaka had 7 blocks.
Then, last season. Ibaka didn’t start until late in the season when Jeff Green was trade. As a starter, Ibaka became more of a force inside. I’m sure it helped that Kendrick Perkins was there to be a bash brother with him. Ibaka averaged almost a full block more as a starter. I do attribute that to Perkins being on the other side. Allowing Ibaka to roam a bit more. Ibaka ended up leading the NBA in blocked shots.
It’s not all about his defense. His shots were up, his shooting percentage may have stayed the same. Ibaka got to the line more. He was more aggressive in his sophomore year. He also shot the ball at the line a lot better. Increasing from 63% to 75%. Which would be a key reason why the Thunder shot so well from the free throw line. He developed a shot outside 10 feet. I nice pop-up jumper from the wing, which he’d hit 40% of the time. It was forcing defenders to come out and defend him. Allowing the lane to be open from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
Ibaka’s on the ball defense will be key to an continous improvement. Against Zac Randolph and Dirk Nowitzki he had a defensive rating of 110. His season average before that? 104. Last season his rating was 101. Ibaka is still a solid defender. For what it’s worth, Lebron James’ defensive rating is 104.
Ibaka showed that he can be a great defender. He dominated the Denver first round series. He averaged a double-double along with almost five blocks per game. He had a defensive rating of 93.8. Which is fantastic if you’re not sure what a defensive rating is. Defensive rating is how many points they allow per 100 possessions. In game 3 against Denver, Ibaka’s improved free throw shooting was very evident. Ibaka finished 10-10 from the free throw line. When the rest of the team struggled to hit shots. He was there, grabbing rebounds and putting baskets back in. Had 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Another notch on Ibaka is his frequency to get into foul trouble. Last season he fouled out 8 times. Ibaka was just second to Demarcus Cousins in many times that fouled out. Looking at the rankings of most fouls. Ibaka is with some well respected defenders like Dwight Howard and Amar’e Stoudamire. So, it’s not a bad thing that he’s 11th in fouls in the entire league. It’s a part of being aggressive. It’s also a sign of his inexperience. He’ll learn how to defend the bigger and more agile players better. Instead of coming over the top. He’s going to learn to just go straight up and not touch the shooter.
Ibaka should have a great season. He was in the slam dunk contest last year, jumping from the free throw line. He is slowly developing into a star. ESPN expects Ibaka’s stats to improve across the board. Projected: 11.00 PPG, 8.5 RBG, and 2.6 blocks per game.. up from 2.4 last seaon.
I think with a healthy Kendrick Perkins, you could see an explosion from Ibaka. Not having to help out so much on the ball as Perkins was a handicap at times defensively. He’ll be able to concentrate. However, at times he’ll need to know when he does actually need help. It’s going to be great to see Air Congo fly this season.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!