Serge Ibaka wants to be involved

Mar 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) makes a basket as Toronto Raptors forward Luis Scola (4) looks on during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) makes a basket as Toronto Raptors forward Luis Scola (4) looks on during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Since the loss on March 12th against the Spurs, Serge Ibaka has put together an impressive stretch: 13.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 0.9 steals in only 28.1 minutes per game. Not coincidentally, the Thunder have won all 7 of those games that Ibaka played (he sat out the 76ers’ game) against teams that are either in the playoffs or just on the edge of the playoffs, and of course whatever was left of the Spurs.

After a 119-100 win against the Toronto Raptors Monday night, Ibaka gave Anthony Slater, of the Oklahoman, one of the more interesting quotes to come out of the Thunder lockerrom this year:

"“I’m gonna tell you the truth, it’s hard sometimes when you play hard, you play you’re (butt off)…You play so hard on defense, then you come to offense and you’re going to be out there in the corner for 4, 5, 6, sometimes 8 minutes and you don’t touch the ball. We human, man. It’s hard.”"

It’s impossible to determine how big of an effect Ibaka had on those games. He clearly is a large part of the team, but in the 164 minutes that he’s played since the winning streak started, he’s played 162 minutes with Russell Westbrook, and 109 minutes with both Westbrook and Kevin Durant, 66.5% of his total minutes. It’s impossible to separate the effect Ibaka has on the team when he’s played the majority of his minutes with the other two stars.

And still, Ibaka’s quote isn’t an opinion on how teams should play, it’s a statement on how he feels when he doesn’t see the ball for extended periods of time. It’s not anybody’s job to tell Ibaka what he’s saying isn’t true. His quote is much like someone who is unhappy with his or her job. It’s not anyone else’s place to say that the person shouldn’t be unhappy. It’s how someone feels, not an opinion.

What Ibaka is saying holds some credence. For whatever advanced stats say about how many or what type of points the Thunder produce on passes, the team doesn’t share the ball relative to the rest of the league.

The Thunder’s Monday night opponent, Toronto. is the 15th-ranked team in terms of passes made per game with 305. Oklahoma City makes only 263 passes per game, last in the league. The Detroit Pistons are the 2nd-worst team in the league in terms of passes made per game and still pass the ball 275 per game, 12 more than the Thunder. The difference between Detroit and Oklahoma City is the same difference between the 8th-ranked Celtics and the 15th-ranked Raptors.

I apologize if I bring back bad memories, but remember these days?

Perk Post
Perk Post /

The team gave Kendrick Perkins the ball in the post, not because it was an extremely efficient option, but to keep him engaged on the other end of the floor. Ibaka is talking about the same type of thing, only without the agony of watching Perkins with the ball in his hands.

Ibaka isn’t the type of player that creates shots for others. He’s improved as a passer, but only because he came into the league with no ability to pass the ball and has graduated to whatever level is just above that.

Ibaka isn’t alone. Most of the Thunder players are either offensive or defensive-minded, and almost none of them are above average passers. Ibaka, Dion Waiters, Andre Roberson, Randy Foye and Enes Kanter all receive more than 20 minutes per game and none are good passers. Those 5 players combine to average 6.2 assists per game. Westbrook averages 10.4 on his own. The only player that receives regular minutes for the Thunder and is also a decent passer is Steven Adams. He averages the third-most passes per game on the team, despite averaging only the 5th-most minutes.

The Thunder don’t have the personnel to run a motion, passing based system like the Warriors or Spurs of the last few years. For as much as Ibaka (and almost any role player) wants, the Thunder simply cannot rely on ball and player-movement to create open shots. There seems to be an obvious culprit who can be blamed for the construction of the roster, but that’s a different post for a different day.

Next: Thunder power rankings: week 23

With only 8 games remaining in the regular season, Oklahoma City should focus on integrating Ibaka in the offense, although there is no statistical evidence that momentum exists as it pertains to the regular season and playoffs. A fully engaged Ibaka, along with the dynamic duo of Westbrook and Durant, is the only hope Oklahoma City has to compete with (and probably lose to, unfortunately) San Antonio and Golden State.

You can view Slater’s column here.

All stats are from, or, unless otherwise noted.