Power forward Serge Ibaka seems to have progressed at warp speed in his three years with the Thunder.
He became a starter at age 21 midway through his second season, finished as runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season and was rewarded with a four-year, $49-million extension to remain with OKC.
Is it reasonable to expect Ibaka to continue to improve at the same rate of speed the next three years, or will some patience be required?
“Why wait?” Ibaka said Monday at a news conference announcing his contract extension. “I will work hard and I believe. … I know where I come from and I know where I'm going.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he expects Ibaka to prepare in the same manner he has in the past.
“It's a fast rate at which he's improved rapidly the last three years,” Brooks said. “We're going to keep pushing him because he competes, he works, he gets after it every day in practice. We're going to challenge him to keep getting better, keep improving.
“We feel that defensively he's one of the best in the league, but he can improve in those areas. He can understand what we do defensively much better. Even his shot-blocking ability, hopefully, he'll get better in that area. His improvement is based on the work he puts in.”
Does Ibaka consider himself a patient person?
“OK, I want to tell the truth, all right?” said Ibaka, who turns 23 next Tuesday. “No, I'm not … but that's a good thing.”
NO HAKEEM VISIT
Ibaka did not join Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon for workout sessions this summer and said he will not do so before training camp, which starts Oct. 2.
A time crunch prevented Ibaka from committing up to four days with Olajuwon, but Ibaka said he is interested in working with Olajuwon next summer.
“I didn't have time this summer because of the (Spanish) national team,” Ibaka said, “but next year, I really, really would like to work with him.”
Earlier this summer, Olajuwon offered to tutor Ibaka outside of Houston with the goal of helping the Thunder power forward develop more of an offensive game.
Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots during his 18-year career and has worked with several players, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Amar'e Stoudemire to improve each of their low-post skills.
“Olajuwon is one of the best in NBA history, so for me it would be a great opportunity and very exciting to work with him,” Ibaka said.
IN THE BEGINNING
Ibaka's NBA career began innocently enough, playing the last 2:53 of the first half in the second game of the season, which was a 91-83 victory at Detroit on Oct. 30, 2009.
He didn't see action again for 11 days, playing just 2:08 in a loss at Sacramento.
It was his third appearance the following night in an 83-79 victory at the Los Angeles Clippers that captured Brooks' attention.
Although Ibaka fouled out in just 15:35, he helped frustrate All-Star power forward Chris Kaman into a 9-for-26 night from the floor.
“Serge blocked shots, he scored and he really did a great job on Kaman, and that really opened up a lot of our eyes that this guy can do it consistently earlier than we thought,” Brooks said.
Seven of the first eight games Ibaka played as an NBA rookie were on the road.
Asked if he did that deliberately because there might have been more pressure on a 20-year-old playing at home, Brooks said: “No, I think it was just the way it worked out.”
ACCENT THE POSITIVE
Although Ibaka's English has improved greatly since he arrived three years ago, there were a couple of instances he paused Monday and asked reporters to clarify certain words.
“You know, every time when I go back to Spain, I spend like three months there speaking Spanish, I come back here and my accent is getting more stronger,” Ibaka said, shaking his head.
“I believe in God. I believe in me. I believe in my talent. I know if I keep working the right way, everything will come naturally. That's all I think about. I told my agent, ‘Just relax. I believe in myself. I know I can do it. I will keep working hard. I will get better and better.'” — Ibaka