The Oklahoman's staff writers discuss three topics surrounding Serge Ibaka.
1. What area of Serge Ibaka's game impressed you the most this season?
Darnell Mayberry: That jumper. It got even better this season. Ibaka hit 47 percent of his jump shots this season and connected on 51.5 percent from 15 to 19 feet. Ibaka's shooting ranks right next to his shot-blocking as the most consistent part of his game and it has become a real weapon for the Thunder.
John Rohde: Still his shot blocking, since he led the league for the third straight season. His interior defense was much improved, mainly because he positioned himself much better rather than just simply allowing someone to shoot and timing his jump to block a shot.
Berry Tramel: Early, his pick-'n-pop shooting. Late, his interior defense. Ibaka has become a premier midrange shooter. Someone you can count on to consistently sink the 17-footer. And the longer the season went, the better post defender Ibaka became. Ibaka already is the NBA's best shot-blocker. If he continues to improve defensively, he'll be an all-star caliber player.
2. Ibaka says he will be an All-Star next season. Are you buying it, and what would it take for him to do it?
Mayberry: Not buying it. No knock on Ibaka. Just look at the other guys who weren't on the All-Star team this year. It's virtually an All-Star team of non-All-Stars: Stephen Curry, Jamal Crawford, Damian Lillard, Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kenneth Faried, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson and DeMarcus Cousins. It's basically a numbers game. And Ibaka's probably the 20th guy in line for a 12-man team. He'll have to get lucky.
Rohde: You would think a guy on the cusp of becoming Defensive Player of the Year would be a surefire All-Star, but the West is loaded at the position with Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph and now David Lee, plus Tim Duncan if coaches vote him at power forward. At least two of those guys are going to have to fall off to make room for Ibaka.
Tramel: I'm not buying it, but mostly because of the issues beyond Ibaka's control. It's hard for three players from the same team to make the All-Star team, especially in the Western Conference. Politically, it's hard to get three guys from the same roster on the squad. And the West is loaded with good players. In the East, sure. The East is scouring box scores, looking for a decent player to anoint an all-star. But the West has tons of great candidates. A typical West dilemma is choosing between someone like Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge.
3. Would the Thunder have been better off ponying up for James Harden and letting Ibaka walk?
Mayberry: In the short term, yes. In the long run, no. Harden is a much more polished player than Ibaka and could have given the Thunder a couple of years of the best trio in basketball. It would have been a three-headed monster most teams would not have been able to defend. But three max contracts on the same team has quickly become a fading format thanks to the league's more punitive rules. So the window would have been open for roughly two years and then the Thunder, in all likelihood, would have lost both Harden and Ibaka — possibly for nothing in return.
Rohde: No. You already have two of the league's premier scorers. Shooting guards are plentiful, but 23-year-old shot blockers, with a velvet jump shot who can run like a gazelle are not easy to find.
Tramel: No. The Thunder tried to sign both and even offered Harden more than what Ibaka signed for. But Harden said no. But now Ibaka is signed for $12.25 million a year, which is a lot of money to pay for your No. 3 player but still acceptable for an all-star caliber talent.