When James Harden was traded before the start of this season, it provided an opportunity for certain players to step up and fill the void.
Kevin Martin was there to replace the scoring while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook try to make up for the lost playmaking.
Serge Ibaka may be taking advantage of the increased offensive opportunity better than anyone. Ibaka is averaging a career-high 14.0 points per game this season while shooting 58.7 percent from the field.
Ibaka has been most deadly from the mid-range where there is no longer any hesitation with that shot, rather simply rise and fire. Ibaka is shooting 55 percent on mid-range jump shots this year, an improvement from 41 percent a season ago.
“He’s one of the best pop guys in the league at that position,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told NBA.com. “A 17-foot jump shot, I would take that shot probably over anybody on our team.”
Compare Ibaka’s mid-range shooting percentage to a few other players around the league: Durant (45 percent), Westbrook (35 percent), LeBron James (35 percent), Blake Griffin (41 percent), Kevin Garnett (52 percent), Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant (47 percent).
Because of his improved jumper, Ibaka has become one of the best pick-and-roll options in the entire league. He currently ranks 22nd overall as the pick-and-roll roll man scoring 1.07 points per possession and shooting 52.1 percent on those plays.
A lot of credit needs to be given to Westbrook for Ibaka’s improvement this season. With Westbrook’s keener eye for finding teammates, it has been Ibaka more than anyone else that has benefitted.
The Thunder currently hold the best record in the NBA at 18-4 on the year. If they finish the year with this winning percentage, or something close to it, they will have their best record since they moved to OKC.
Ibaka deserves a lot of credit for this. Many thought the Thunder would take a step back after losing Harden but that hasn’t been the case at all.