In the first quarter of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s last preseason game vs. the Denver Nuggets, Serge Ibaka made two 3-pointers. This kind of thing isn’t exactly what Ibaka is known for. But he stepped into both shots confidently and drilled them.
Ibaka has a smooth midrange jump shot that he has proven to be one of the best at in the NBA. It looks like now he may be expanding that range just a little bit to turn himself into a 3-point threat, predominantly from the shortened corner spots.
Ibaka signed a 4-year, $51 million extension this summer. The Thunder are locked into Ibaka and the potential he has, perhaps even more than they are with James Harden who is still yet to ink a new deal.
Ibaka making $51 million is a lot of money for someone who last season averaged 9.1 points in 27.2 points per game. Projecting Ibaka to see an increase in minutes and offensive scoring opportunities would be a logical guess.
Ibaka is averaging 14.3 points on 52 percent shooting in the preseason thus far. He has made 3-of-5 3-point shots as well. We’ve seen Ibaka going into the post on designed plays more often too.
Ibaka may very well be on the verge of becoming the Thunder’s fourth scoring option. He already technically is that but now it could mean something more. With his physical tools, it’s not going to take too much for Ibaka to transform into a real force to be reckoned with, whether that’s in the post are shooting threes from the corners.
Oklahoma City needs this too. Durant, Westbrook and Harden have been fantastic as a scoring trio. They do it better than anyone in the league but most of their work starts on the perimeter and comes off the dribble. Ibaka can do it a little differently and it will start to take some of the pressure off them.
Imagine if Ibaka had a back-to-the-basket game during the NBA Finals. With the Miami Heat going small matching Shane Battier up with him, the Thunder could have really taken advantage.
Ibaka’s progression as a scorer will sync nicely with the Thunder offense this season. We have already seen Durant and Westbrook looking significantly comfortable during the preseason and it has resulted in more assists from each.
Ibaka will be the receiver of a lot of Durant and Westbrook kick outs this season and it appears he is ready to step up and score more points.