The Oklahoma City Thunder have the best young roster in the NBA right now. Last year they made it to the NBA Finals with their four best players age 23 or 22. The future looks bright for this team with a championship near on the horizon.
One of the four cornerstones of this franchise is Serge Ibaka who just signed a 4-year, $49 million contract extension this summer. There was some thought that maybe the Thunder would consider letting Ibaka go so they could more easily keep James Harden instead, but now it looks like they intend to keep both.
Ibaka has progressed a lot so far in his NBA career. He was very raw as a rookie in 2009-10 but still productive as a shot blocker and athlete in general. Last season, he had his best year to date finishing second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting while averaging 3.7 blocks per game.
Ibaka has improved his offensive game as well developing a deadly midrange jump shot which he hit 46 percent of the time last season, a very good mark. Ibaka still rarely gets touches on offense aside from his spot-up jumpers and putbacks. His post-up game is nonexistent so far and he has a long way to go in that department.
Here’s a look at Ibaka’s advanced stats so far in his career:
Ibaka saw a big jump in minutes two years ago especially following the Jeff Green trade. Part of the reason why the Thunder traded away Green was to unleash Ibaka as the new starting four and get him more minutes.
Ibaka improved as a finisher around the rim in his second and third seasons from his rookie year. He shot only 61.2 percent on shots at the rim his rookie season and then 73.6 and 69.8 percent the following two seasons. Ibaka has noticeably become more comfortable catching the ball inside and getting his shot up quicker. This is an area where he can still improve on a lot and he should get better next season.
Ibaka’s usage percentage remained exactly the same last season as the year before. He played a lot more minutes with the second unit in his first two seasons and now playing as a starter, that is why we aren’t seeing an increase there. Ibaka shouldn’t necessarily be getting more touches with the starting unit, but he could start to see more minutes in general, including some time with the second unit.
Ibaka has averaged about 27 minutes per game in each of the last two years. He is due to see that number go up especially after the extension he just signed. Ibaka is more than capable of logging 35-plus minutes per night. He doesn’t get in foul trouble much and never appears to be fatigued.
With the return of Eric Maynor next season, it would be nice to see Ibaka on the floor with a true point guard. The Thunder essentially played without any kind of point guard last season as Harden and Russell Westbrook handled the ball most of the time. Ibaka will see the greatest increase in production while on the floor with better passers.
The Thunder in general should be a better passing team next year too. This past season felt like they were running at 100 mph all the time. It was impressive because not many teams can play that way and that hard so much but it resulted in less control on offense. After the experience this team gained last season, they should play with more control next season and that should result in better ball movement and opportunities for someone like Ibaka.
Ibaka probably won’t see a huge increase in production next season but we should see some improved efficiency. I expect his true shooting percentage to get back closer to .580 and for his minutes to increase as well.
It will be hard to match his blocks per game number from last season but with more minutes, we could see him close to 4.0 per night.
Ibaka has yet to average double-digit scoring in a season and I think that changes next year too. Expect to see Ibaka closer to 11.0 points per game with better ball movement from the Thunder offense as a whole.
We saw Ibaka improve as an offensive rebounder last year as well and if he keeps that up, as he continues to understand the game and his place in it, that should aid in more points and rebounds for him as well.
Ibaka has a long way to go as a defender in general too. He often bites for pump fakes and is out of position. He can make up for it with his amazing athleticism but he definitely can improve his defensive positioning as a whole.
The Thunder are devoted to Ibaka and the potential he has shown thus far in his career. In Oklahoma City, one can only expect Ibaka to continue to improve and for him to take a big step next season.