The complete rosters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game were finalized last Thursday night when the reserves were announced.
It’s always this time of year that we analyze the team and decide who was snubbed and who shouldn’t have been selected.
In the deep Western Conference, there are a lot of players that feel like they are deserving of being named as all-stars.
Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder was one of those players who was on the bubble of making the team. But how close is Serge from joining the NBA’s elite as an all-star?
It’s easy to say that Ibaka is playing at an all-star level and it’s more difficult to decide who he should have made the team over.
Ibaka is averaging 14.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game this season. He’s shooting 53.8 percent from the field overall and has become one of the best midrange jump shooters in the league, shooting 47.9 percent on those shots.
Among Western Conference players, Ibaka ranks 22nd overall in PER. That puts him ahead of two Western Conference All-Star selections: Damian Lillard and Kobe Bryant. Ibaka has a far lower usage percentage than most of the other players with similar PER’s.
When it comes to reserves in the Western Conference, you might look at Dirk Nowitzki as one of the final players to make the roster. Or maybe Lillard or Tony Parker, but you knew those two were going to make the team and Ibaka’s real competition is in the frontcourt. The other two frontcourt reserves were Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge, both of whom are more deserving candidates than Ibaka.
There are even a few snubs in the Western Conference who would have likely made the team over Ibaka if it came down to it. You have the biggest snub, Anthony Davis, and then there’s DeMarcus Cousins and David Lee. Even Nikola Pekovic could have gotten the nod over Ibaka. That leaves Ibaka pretty far back this year.
Ibaka’s best chance at becoming an all-star is doing so by getting a better reputation on the defensive end. If you look at the Eastern Conference, some of their frontcourt players that made it did so without huge offensive numbers and numbers that are a little bit worse than Ibaka’s. Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah made the team this year, and Tyson Chandler’s selection last year is another case to look at.
Ibaka remains among the top of the league when it comes to blocks per game, but he still isn’t on the same level defensively as some of these other big men in the league. Ibaka has a hard time keeping up with players like Aldridge, Nowitzki or Kevin Love. He’s not the best one-on-one defender against post-ups and he’s gotten a reputation for jumping at too many pump fakes.
Once Ibaka becomes a more complete defender, where he is looked at as one of the best defensive “anchors” in the league, it will go a long way toward earning him all-star consideration.
We see Ibaka’s offensive game on the rise and if he keeps improving on that end, it will be good enough to get him to the All-Star Game. He’s taking on a bigger role this year, shooting the ball more, but he’s still attempting just over two free throws per game. The midrange jump shot is great and money for the most part, but finding ways to get to the line more often will go a long way in Ibaka taking his game to the next level.
The future competition in the frontcourt in the Western Conference will remain tough for Ibaka. Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are at the end of their runs but Blake Griffin, Love, Davis and Cousins look like they are going to become perennial selections. That will leave just 1-2 spots for Ibaka to battle the likes of Aldridge, Lee, Howard and whoever else emerges in the coming years.
Ibaka is having the best year of his career by many accounts this season. And he is getting close to becoming an all-star, just not yet.