Serge Ibaka might soon have a new Hall of Fame coach.
Hakeem Olajuwon has reached out to Thunder coach Scott Brooks to determine if and perhaps when he might be able to work with Ibaka on his offensive game. Olajuwon’s representatives contacted Brooks, who teamed with the former Rockets star, via text on Tuesday.
Olajuwon originally expressed his interest in working with Ibaka to Fox Sports last month, saying the Thunder’s runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year “needs it.”
Brooks on Tuesday told The Oklahoman that he loves the idea.
“I played with Hakeem for three years,” Brooks said of his stint with Olajuwon and the Rockets from 1992-95. “He’s one of the best to ever play the game. Anytime you can get players that played at a high level that can share their insight, you have to take advantage of it.”
Ibaka has a small window of availability this summer. He will compete for Spain in the London Olympics, which run from July 27 through August 12. It’s unclear what Ibaka’s plans are beyond that. Typically, many Thunder players reconvene in Oklahoma City several weeks prior to the start of training camp to begin voluntary workouts as a team.
Ibaka has gotten more comfortable and confident on the offensive end every year he’s been in the NBA. In his third season, Ibaka averaged 9.1 points on 53.5 percent shooting as the fourth option behind Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. But Brooks said after the season that Ibaka can be even better offensively.
“He can improve a little bit more, especially with the experience he has gained,” Brooks said. “I think we see a peek of what he can become on the offensive end. I do not think he is going to be a 20-point scorer but I think his mid-range is as good as anyone on our team and we have to do a better job of finding him opportunities.”
Olajuwon famously instructed LeBron James for four days last summer, and the lessons on footwork and low-post moves that James learned helped power Miami to the NBA title. Olajuwon also has spent time developing Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard’s post games among others.
There’s no telling what a lesson on the low block from Olajuwon could do for Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots last season and is improving rapidly on defense. Brooks, however, already is tempering expectations.
“One of the things I do realize is there’s only one Olajuwon,” Brooks told The Oklahoman. “There’s not going to be another one, not in my lifetime. So the expectations have to be realistic. He’s such a modest person that he will never tell anybody how great he was. But he was the best that I’ve ever seen with footwork and his ability to make plays, not only for himself but for others. I’ve never seen another player at any position able to do what he did.”
Brooks doesn’t deny that Ibaka could benefit from a few sessions with Olajuwon.
“Serge, he definitely can improve,” Brooks said. “He’s one of the best face-up shooters. But if he can develop a consistent low-post game, it’s going to help all of us.”
The Thunder has developed a reputation for being a jump-shooting team because of the way Durant, Westbrook and Harden score. With no true low-post scoring threat, the Thunder at times struggles to manufacture points in its halfcourt offense. Those that Oklahoma City does generate rarely seem to come easy, although the Thunder’s offense has gotten much better as its young players develop.
“We have a pretty good scoring team, but we’re always trying to figure out ways to score more efficiently,” Brooks said. “And having an inside-outside attack is always important. Our inside game is from our penetration and our free throw line opportunities off attacking the basket. But definitely, James, Russell, Kevin, Serge, (Kendrick Perkins), they’re all guys that have to be much better down low. I’ve challenged all of them this summer to get better coming back.”