We only needed two games of a tough Western Conference Finals series against the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs to realize just how important Serge Ibaka is to the Oklahoma City Thunder. His presence in the paint and at the rim, as well as his ability to knock down the mid-range jumpshot and provide some relief for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t be denied.
So let’s have a look at his off-season report card.
Offensive Grade: B+
It is still hard to believe that Ibaka has just completed his 5th NBA season. The improvement he has shown – especially on the offensive end – has been remarkable in just a short period of time, but it is something the Thunder crave desperately. Ibaka averaged a career high 15.1ppg this season and he scored those point on mid range jump shots, corner three pointers and at the rim following pick and rolls and rebounds. He is becoming a versatile offensive presence for OKC and should start to be utilized even more as OKC try to get the balance right.
Key for improvement – Continued development of his jump shot and specifically the range on the shot. If he can become an even deeper threat it will clear the lane a lot more for Russ and KD. He also needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end and look for his shot (and the Thunder need to get him more looks). A go to post move would also keep defenders guessing and help the guards find more space behind the arc.
Defensive Grade: A+
Sure Thunder fans might be just a bit biased, but this guy HAS to be continually in contention for Defensive Player of the Year honors. His ability to defend the pick and roll, keep smaller guys out of the paint as well as erase and alter shots at the rim is second to none. He closes down space with his freakish length and athleticism and is the anchor for OKC without a doubt. His lateral movement has improved and his timing has also gotten a lot better. He is as good as anyone on the defensive side of the ball.
Keys for improvement – none. He just needs to keep improving and working on his game. Already a fairly complete defender, he has the timing down and rarely gets out-faked. He doesn’t leave his feet too often and is a quick “second-jumper” meaning he can still contest when out of position. He needs to ask more out of his teammates too – often they gamble because Ibaka is just that good, and it doesn’t help the team overall.
While KD and Russ get the majority of the attention, Ibaka is equally as important. He is a “heart and soul” kind of guy who will go into battle for the team night in and night out. His heart is huge and he just wants to succeed which are traits OKC love. The physical presence and athleticism are terrific and clearly his work ethic is first class, as evidenced through his continued improvement each and every off-season. Ibaka now needs to become a bit more “demanding” within the offensive system. He has the tools and has proven his worth and so he should be given the opportunity to contribute even more – and it is on Serge to make his intentions known.
Keys for improvement – as mentioned above, he needs to carve out a bigger role in this side. He is a fierce competitor and a barometer for the Thunder, so he needs to really push this squad to get better and to use him more frequently for the betterment of the team.
Overall Grade: A
If Serge Ibaka can continue to grow and mature then his grade is only going to go up and up. To be honest, the Thunder need to see more Serge – more often. When defenses hone in on the star duo of KD and Westbrook, they need to defer to Ibaka and Serge needs to continue to show that he can shoulder the load. There is no denying the heart and the talent of Ibaka and you now his impact on this team. With another off-season of hard work, dedication and fitness – next season could be very scary for opposing teams.