“The best teammate I’ve ever played with is Kevin Garnett, but Serge is right there behind K.G., No. 2,” – Kendrick Perkins (Via YahooSports)
I read those words from Kendrick Perkins during the 2014 playoffs and fully got it. I got everything about Serge finally. The Harden trade made sense. The 2 blowouts in games 1 and 2 of the WCF made sense. The legend of Serge Ibaka finally made sense.
There are plenty of Thunder players who get the “intangibles” trait handed to them all the time. Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, and Russell Westbrook to an extent are all really good at things that you really can’t see on the stat sheet. But was Serge Ibaka more of an intangibles guy that we ever thought?
To me, the intangibles (and tangibles) of Serge Ibaka become glaringly clear as the hobbled Power Forward missed some of the Western Conference Finals, and wasn’t healthy after his comeback.
Serge became a superstar this year, and unfortunately, it took a pretty bad injury for most of us to realize that.
While it doesn’t feel like Serge has reached his full potential just yet, he’s continued to get better year after year. To me, if a player continues to increase his production, its hard not to give him a good grade. Serge saw improvement in many areas of his game.
Offense: One of the few areas that Ibaka’s production dipped was field goal percentage. After shooting 57% during the ’12-’13 campaign, his percentage dropped to 53% this past season. Much of that can be attributed to simply shooting more. Ibaka took 2 more shots a game this season than the last. While shooting more, Serge Ibaka averaged a career high 15.1 points per game. And while he didn’t take any more 3-pointers this season than last, he increased his 3-ball percentage to 38%.
An underrated stat of Ibaka’s is that he actually increased his average to one assist a game. While that is nothing to go crazy about, it’s encouraging to see that Serge is working in the offense better than he has in the past.
Are those numbers perfect? Not at all, but like I said, it’s that steady improvement we’ve come to expect from Ibaka. It’s not all that farfetched to expect the same next season. If Serge can improve that 3-point shot and score a bit more in games, he becomes one of the single most dangerous players in the NBA on both ends.
Rebounding: Yeah, rebounding get its own category, because the Thunder need it. The rise of Steven Adams, and skill set of Andre Roberson has been an encouraging sign pointing to a bright rebounding future in OKC, but with Kendrick Perkins starting for the Thunder, OKC has never excelled in rebounding. Serge Ibaka is often part of that problem. A guy with that length and that vertical can be very dangerous on the boards if he can put it all together.
With that said, after averaging 7.5 rebounds a game (not bad at all) Serge Ibaka increased his average to 8.8 this season. A great omen that Serge Ibaka is in fact putting effort into expanding his rebounding skills.
Defense: I’m not going to waste your time here. We know that Serge Ibaka is good at defense, and should be a big time front runner for Defensive Player of the Year in the ’14-’15 season.
Serge was tremendous all season. His Blocked Shots numbers actually dropped for the second straight season, but he, yet again, easily led the league in swats. Is the decrease in blocked shots something to be concerned about? Absolutely not. While unofficially, I’m certain Serge Ibaka changes the course of about a hundred shots a game. Players who normally dominate by slashing and cutting are terrified of Serge Ibaka, and he is literally the definition of “game changer” in terms of interior defense.
As mentioned, this became glaringly clear when Serge went down and missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals this season. The interior defense was completely different without him.
(By the way, you know how sometimes that crazy thought slips into your head that Russell Westbrook might be the Thunder’s best player? Was I the only one during Game 3 of the WCF thinking “Whoa, what if Serge Ibaka is our best all around player?!”)
Intangibles: And in 2013-2014 we got a glimpse of Serge Ibaka the teammate. We’ve seen how the team gets shaken when Russell or even Perkins goes down. Some players make the team’s heart beat. There’s no other way to put it. I think the playoffs showed us that Serge Ibaka is one of those players.
From Kendrick Perkins quote to Serge’s incredibly adorable “ice and God” remedy to cure his ailing calf muscle, we finally got to see that Serge Ibaka that the Thunder’s front office, coaching staff, and players are crazy about. Serge Ibaka is a fantastic basketball player. Serge Ibaka is a fantastic teammate. And Serge Ibaka is officially a superstar in this league.
I look forward to seeing Serge inevitably improve yet again next season.