Two weeks ago, after Serge Ibaka’s brutal two-game stretch to start the season, I put together a post examining his clear offensive struggles.
And it was warranted. Given an expanded role, and attempting to flash a new offensive skill set, Ibaka looked uncomfortable and a bit lost at the season’s outset, shooting 7-of-28 in the first two games.
But then Russell Westbrook came back…and then Ibaka found his jumper…and then he stopped forcing isolation drives and post-ups…and then he started putting up All-Star numbers.
In his past five games, Ibaka has made 39 of 57 shots (68 percent). He’s put up a trio of massive double-doubles (17-13 vs Dallas, 25-12 vs Washington, 27-13 vs Golden State). And overall, he’s emerging into a consistent and deadly inside-outside force, playing within himself and providing the Thunder with a legit third scoring option.
So a couple weeks after exposing some early blemishes, it’s only fair to circle back and take a closer examination of how Ibaka has completely covered them up.
Here’s a video breakdown:
The Return of Russ
No better place to start. Because this is where Serge’s turnaround stems. In 11 games without Westbrook, Ibaka shot 37 percent. In his past 11 games with Westbrook, Ibaka shot 61 percent. It’s no coincidence. The duo is a nightmare in the pick and pop game (examined later) and an even deadlier athletic combo around the hoop.
There’s no better example of that than the first quarter against the Clippers on Wednesday night. Ibaka was 4-of-4 in the opening minutes. All four hoops were set up by Westbrook. Take a look at the clips below. It’s a big man’s dream. Westbrook sucks in all the defensive attention before drilling Ibaka with crisp passes on the move. He just wasn’t getting these type of easy buckets with his All-Star point guard out:
Turning defense into offense
Ibaka’s offense wasn’t the only thing that left him early this season. His high-wire defensive act was missing in action, too. The two-time defending shot block champion only had two blocks combined in the first three games. Since then, he’s had at least three in four different games. And that defensive activity has helped fuel him on the other end. It gives him energy and allows him to get out on the break. Check out this end-to-end action in the next three clips:
Monster on the glass
To reach the next level — the upper-echelon of power forwards — Ibaka must improve his rebounding. He has never averaged more than 7.7 in a season. But this year, the early signs indicate he received that message. Through eight games, Ibaka is averaging 9.8 boards. And he has been a monster on the offensive glass, particularly in the big moments. Check out these next two clips, two of the biggest plays in OKC’s wild comeback against the Wizards:
When Ibaka’s jumper is on, this offense just runs smoother. And it has been on-point lately. Some of that, as discussed earlier, has to do with Westbrook’s return. The threat he presents, and the explosiveness in which he comes off screens, attracts the defense and typically gives Ibaka a wide-open look in his money spots. Check the first video below:
But on this team, it’s not just Westbrook who commands attention with the ball in his hands. The next two clips show Serge getting wide-open looks off nice assists from Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. And when Ibaka is hitting, the lane starts to open for everybody else:
The biggest reason Ibaka’s effectiveness has gone up is because his inefficient looks have gone down. In those first few games, OKC was featuring him in elbow isolations and awkward post-ups, where he’d either try to take his man off the dribble or attempt an off-balance hook shot over the top of them (it’s detailed better in this post). Lately, he hasn’t been trying that. In the past five games, this is the only post iso I could find (he actually made the shot on a nice fadeaway):
Nice finish to finish the post off
Not sure how he contorted this one in: