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Ibaka is key to Thunder winning without Westbrook

Chuck Chaney January 15, 2014 1 Comment
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When Sam Presti made the decision to sign Serge Ibaka to four years, $12 million dollars when James Harden wouldn’t budge on his max contract, it put a pressure on Serge Ibaka to perform offensively as well to continue to grow defensively.

For the most part, Ibaka has done that. He’s one of the league’s best weak side defenders. He’s gotten better on not biting on the pump fake, and keep him defender in front of him. For the most part, he’s done a really great job defensively.  You could even say he might be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before Russell Westbrook went down. Possibly could still be, but that’s for another article.

Offensively we’ve seen Ibaka grow this season. He’s done really well with Westbrook on the court. He’s being single defended, maybe the third best defender on the floor. He’s being able to get open and hit jumpers, especially off the pick and roll.  He’s averaging career highs in points and rebounds per game. His ability to get to the line is one of his career bests. So, he’s scoring points. That’s what Oklahoma City wanted with the loss of Harden and Kevin Martin.

Yet, here we are again. Talking about Ibaka’s disappearance on offense. He’s averaging 13.9 PPG this season. However, since Westbrook went down with his most recent surgery, he’s averaging just 12.4 PPG on 49.1 percent shooting.  Before Westbrook he was averaging 14.5 PPG on 52 percent shooting.

You can contribute a lot of it to Ibaka being more of a focal points by the defense. With Reggie Jackson not being nearly the threat that Westbrook is, defenses are keying on what Ibaka does a little more than others. Ibaka is settling for a lot more jumpers. He averaged more than two shots per game inside nine feet than before Westbrook went out. Those two shots are still there for Ibaka. They’re just outside 18 feet.

So, basically Ibaka is settling for jump shots instead of taking his big body to the rim. He’s shooting 66 percent at the rim since Westbrook went down, compared to 63 percent when he was with Westbrook. The lack of ball movement could be one reason why he’s taking more shots from outside. He might could take players off the dribble, but Ibaka’s never really been known for his dribbling skill.s

I’d like to see Oklahoma City use Ibaka more on the block, than catching around 16-feet. This could help improve his rebounding that has dropped off as well. Allowing Ibaka to get closer to the rim would help on second chance points, and points in the paint. Both statistics have fallen off since Westbrook left with the injury.

Ibaka isn’t the main point on why Oklahoma City struggles. The bench is a huge reason why  as well. Especially with Jackson in the starting line up. However, he’s a axiological piece to the Thunder succeeding and need to find ways to continue to get him closer and better looks. As Ibaka’s offense goes, the Thunder offense may as well go as well.

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Founder & Editor-in-Chief. Member of the Professional Basketball Writer's Association. Lover of Advanced Stats. Russell Westbrook apologist.