After a slow start, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka is showing signs of life on offense. He had 10 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter of Wednesday's 101-91 home victory over New Orleans.
While OKC coach Scott Brooks has tried to get Ibaka more involved in the natural flow of the offense, perhaps center Kendrick Perkins indirectly caused Ibaka's slow start.
"I sat down and talked with Serge and told him he's got the ability to possibly be the defensive player of the year, if he just puts his mind to it," Perkins said. "I told him to just go out and play the game, not to worry about offense. 'You score zero points and have six or seven blocks, you did what we asked you to do.' I think he's starting to figure it out.
"At first, he was kind of worried about his offense. I told him, 'That's not your role. That's not what we need out of you on this team. If you get the ball and get your shot, then take your shot. If you get around the rim, finish. But the first thing is we've got to be the defensive bigs on this team.' "
Though he is seeking more offense from Ibaka, Brooks didn't object to the defensive advice Perkins shared with the 22-year-old from Congo.
"I like that," Brooks said. "Those two guys, they have good chemistry with one another. Perk and Serge, they love to defend, they love to protect the basket. They're our enforcers down there.
"We all have to do a better job of rebounding. We can't change the way we play around Serge. He has to defend. He has to block shots. He has to run the floor. Occasionally he will get some shots."
NOT THERE YET
Brooks is faced with the challenge of acknowledging his team has the league's best record at 15-3 while constantly reminding his team it has yet to reach its full potential. Past heartache, particularly late in games, frequently has been a learning tool.
"There's no question that experience always helps," Brooks said. "We've been through some good battles and we've taken our lumps through the last three years. We haven't arrived. We haven't got to point where we need to get to, but we feel we're a good team. We know that we're a good team, but we also know if you think that you're 'there,' you're going to get bit and when it does happen, it hurts."
The Thunder's nine-game gauntlet commences Friday night in Oracle Arena against Golden State, then it's at the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, at Dallas on Wednesday, at home against Memphis next Friday, at San Antonio on Feb. 4, at Portland on Feb. 6, back at Golden State on Feb. 7, at Sacramento on Feb. 9 and at Utah on Feb. 10.
Brooks, on his team's upcoming challenge: "It's not easy to win on the road. You go into some hostile environments and we definitely have our hands full the next two weeks … very tough cities to play in. Our guys love challenges. They embrace it. They don't shy away from it. We don't have a cockiness to us, we just have a belief."