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OKC Thunder: Examining the budding rivalry between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin

Oklahoma City's adopted son against its forgotten one. Serge Ibaka vs. Blake Griffin. One of the league’s most intriguing head-to-head matchups is set for another chapter on Thursday night in OKC, when the Clippers visit the Thunder. Here's a comprehensive look at their history.
by Anthony Slater Modified: November 20, 2013 at 10:39 pm •  Published: November 20, 2013

Rebounding

Ibaka has made a concerted effort to become a more prolific rebounder this season and you can see the tangible difference. He’s averaging 10.5 boards through 10 games, nearly three more than his career-high. But Griffin has been at that double-digit level since the day he set foot in the league. For his career, he averages 10.4. Just comes naturally to him. Edge: Griffin

Interior defense

Ibaka has led the NBA in blocks for two consecutive seasons, using his lanky 7-foot-4 wingspan to erase shots. But Griffin, with far less length (6-foot-11 wingspan, small for a big), has had trouble protecting the rim. He has never averaged more than 0.7 blocks per game. And that seems like an unfixable flaw. Edge: Ibaka 

Long-term potential

At this point, and likely down the road, Griffin will be viewed as the better player. And that’s fair. He has a higher ceiling and is more productive now. But I think the gap is closer than people believe. And I’m not sure the Thunder, who need rim protection and secondary scoring more than another shot-commanding star, would trade one for the other. Edge: Griffin

What they're saying

TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr on Ibaka…

-"I think he has the chance to be elite defensively. (But) offensively, it’s tough to really see him develop into a star. He’s got a nice jump shot, but he doesn’t really have a feel." 

-"He’s not a passer, he’s not the kind of guy with a low post game. So you don’t fear him. He’s really a complementary player on offense. But he’s good, he’s just not great. And I don’t expect him to be great offensively. I think we would have already seen the development of his game by this point.”

"I look at big man in the scope of their offensive potential down the road. Can they get on the low block and can they command a double-team? And since (Ibaka) can’t really do either, I think he’s just going to be a complementary jump shooter off of Westbrook and Durant."

Kerr on Griffin...

-"Blake has more potential than Ibaka as an offensive weapon because he is a really good passer and you can run an offense through him." 

-"(The Clippers) have to be able to throw him the ball and get baskets late in playoff games. Very few players can do that, where you can count on them to score in very tough playoff games. He’s not there yet, but I know he’s working at it and Doc is working with them."

-"He’s not a guy who you think of in switching pick and rolls and being really good at staying in front of people. He’s not bad, but he’s not (Anderson) Varajao and he’s not (Joakim) Noah. He’s solid defensively, but he’s not a great rim protector. And he’s not a guy with the potential to be dominant because of the lack of length. And that’s where Serge can be so good and is so good at times."

Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst George Karl on Ibaka...

-"I think with the makeup of Oklahoma City, he’s probably between (star and complementary piece). He’s going to have to be third fiddle. Westbrook and Durant are top-10 players. So the responsibility, the percentage of responsibility, is never going to be grandiose to the point where he can become a superstar or a super, super player. I think he’s going to be a player that can become a major part of team."

-"If he would choose to become a leading man or leading player on a bad team right now, which I would not recommend, to play for stardom rather than championships. I think it would be an interesting experiment, where there’s a part of me that thinks he could make it and a part of me that probably thinks he would fail."

Denver coach Brian Shaw on Ibaka's potential All-Star candidacy...

"He’s not the dynamic type star player who you typically think of as an All-Star. But as coaches, we understand the value of what he brings to his team and the contribution that he makes toward his team being a winning team. So I don’t think that’ll be taken lightly when that comes to voting."

Ryan Gomes on Ibaka...

"I think he’s getting to that elite level. I think he’s a little bit underrated…Now he’s that third guy. You always got to have those two superstars and those other guys who want to be a superstar and their game is at that level. And I think Serge’s game is there and I think he’s gonna show it. Over the last five or six games, he’s been phenomenal for us on both ends of the floor."

Ryan Gomes on Griffin...

"I think Blake has improved as the year’s have gone, especially shooting from the outside. Of course he’s not Dirk Nowitzki yet, but you got to honor him more than you did earlier in his career. When I was with him in LA, it was just a lot of paint catches, a lot of paint dunks, easy layups, transition points. But as his game evolves, he got better at making the jump shot."

Ryan Gomes on the comparison between the two...

"Athleticism-wise, they’re about the same but different. Serge is more defensively athletic, but Blake is more in the air, turn, do 360-layups, stuff like that. As far as games, I think they’re similar. They both rebound the basketball at a high rate. Serge is better defensively and offensively he can step out and hit his shot more efficiently than Blake can."

by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as NewsOK.com's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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