April 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) prepares before the game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The City Thunder defeated the Warriors 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

OKC Thunder: Are people sleeping on Serge Ibaka?

There’s been a lot of criticism swirling around the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer due to their lack of “big” moves.

Many expect the Thunder to take a step back this season and that they won’t be a team capable of winning 60 games like they did a year ago.

One of the many things that is being underrated about the Thunder is the potential of their young stars to continue to develop.

The spotlight is thought to mostly be on Jeremy Lamb for this upcoming season, but the development of Serge Ibaka may be much more important.

Ibaka took a big leap last year after James Harden’s departure. He became more of an emphasis in the offense and showed many flashes throughout the season of the potential he possesses.

Ibaka increased his scoring average by 4.1 points per game while playing about four more minutes per game. He even developed somewhat of a reliable three-point shot as he made 20-of-57 threes on the season.

We know Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to continue to be the focal points of this team next season. That still leaves enough for a third wheel to emerge and Ibaka is likely to be the guy to continue to see more looks.

Where Ibaka isn’t reliable yet is on his own. He still feeds mostly out of the pick-and-pop he runs with Westbrook and sometimes on putbacks, an area where he could stand to improve in as well.

Ibaka has become one of the best midrange shooters in the NBA. When left open from 15-17 feet, he’s as automatic as just about anyone out there. When he gathers himself properly and makes a strong drive to the basket, no one is stopping that either.

Ibaka’s growth offensively is just about getting more reps. We know he is a worker practicing in the offseason which will of course help him get better to a degree. But it’s also about finding more ways to use him within the offense that will be necessary for him to take another step in his game.

It’s not hard to get creative in using KD and Russ to open up opportunities for other players on the floor to get looks. Doing so to get Ibaka more touches where he can make a strong drive to the rim, or perform a quick post-up will be huge for Scott Brooks to implement.

We can count on Ibaka to make some improvement this season, but this year will be the most he is ever asked to do. Ibaka can either remain the same player he was a season ago, or turn into an All-Star caliber forward. Going by his track record, I think we can expect a big improvement again from Serge.

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