Serge Ibaka’s fifth NBA season opened in ideal fashion: first possession, isolation at the elbow, fluid-looking jumper, swish for the Thunder’s first points.
Too bad, for Ibaka, the rest of Wednesday night’s debut didn’t go nearly as according to plan.
The Thunder won — 101-98 over the Jazz in Utah — but Ibaka struggled mightily with his shot, going 4-of-15 from the field, not attempting a free throw and scoring in single-digits for only the third time in his past 17 outings.
It’s not nearly the production OKC needs from its current second-scoring option and is reminiscent of the stunted playoff run from a year ago, when Ibaka’s numbers were expected to go up with Russell Westbrook out, but instead declined.
In this week’s edition of Thunder Film Room, let’s take a closer look at Ibaka’s offensive night and dissect what went wrong for the fifth-year power forward:
At 6-foot-10, a common criticism of Ibaka’s offensive game is that he falls in love with the jumper a bit too much. But in reality, an open mid-range look for Serge is one of the Thunder’s most efficient plays. He shot nearly 55 percent from between 10 and 16 feet away last season, a great clip. But beyond 16 feet, stretching past the three-point line, that number dipped to below 44 percent. On Wednesday, he went 2-of-7 on jumpers, with all of the misses coming in the 18-20 foot range.
Here are a pair of misses. Both clean looks, a bit deep, but not terrible shots. Jumpers I’m sure he’ll take all season with no hesitation:
Now take a look at both of his made jumpers from Wednesday night. The shots are a bit closer to the rim, but that’t not the biggest difference. Both the misses came directly off the catch, on the move in a two-man game. These next two conversions were on strict isolations, where he got time to face and size up the defender before rising into a more comfortable looking motion.
For whatever reason, this is an area of Ibaka’s game that needs great improvement. Last season, he shot 57 percent from the field, good for fourth in the entire NBA. But from three to 10 feet, in that intermediate range, he shot only 45.7 percent. On Wednesday, those problems persisted.
“Serge got a lot of great looks at the rim,” Kevin Durant said postgame. “They just went in and out.” Take a look at these two floaters on the move:
Nearly every day after practice, when the session opens up to the media, Ibaka can be seen with a group of coaches, working on both his post-up game and face-up drives. At 24, with all the athleticism to expand, he’s trying to become more versatile on the offensive end. But it remains a work in progress. Check out his three dribble-drives on Wednesday. One resulted in a missed fadeaway and the other two ended with errant hooks:
Ahhh, the part of Ibaka’s game (or lack thereof), which is picked apart most. The ironic part: His best offensive move against the Jazz came on a post-up. Late in the second-quarter, when isolated on 7-foot-2 Rudy Gobert (with a 7-foot-9 wingspan and a 9-foot-7 standing reach!!!), Ibaka backed him down toward the middle of the paint before turning baseline and firing in a nice righty hook. Take a look below:
Here’s another post-up later in the game, along with some potential game-planning material for future opponents. The Jazz double-team Ibaka on a quick post-up and, in a panic, Ibaka fires a pass that’s swiped by Utah for a turnover:
Overall, it was clearly a rough game for Ibaka. But in retrospect, he had plenty of makable shots that the Thunder will remain comfortable in him taking. So for now, we can chalk it up to opening-night rust, while keeping a close eye on his continued offensive evolution going forward. Because it remains a vital part of this team’s evolution.