Share “OKC Thunder: Serge Ibaka in the spotlight,...”

OKC Thunder: Serge Ibaka in the spotlight, struggling early

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER — Through two games this season, it's obvious the Thunder has made a concerted effort to get Serge Ibaka the ball in the post and on the drive. The only problem: he's struggling in those areas so far.
by Anthony Slater Published: November 2, 2013

Rather than opting for external help via free agency, the Oklahoma City Thunder has continually preached internal growth from its core of pre-prime players.

In the obvious spotlight this season: 24-year-old Serge Ibaka.

Already a help-side defensive menace and solid mid-range shooter, Ibaka spent a majority of the offseason working to expand his offensive game.

The improvements are expected to come in three areas: On the drive, in the post and stretching out to the three-point line.

Through two games, the emphasis has been obvious. But the improvement has not.

In the opener against Utah, Ibaka shot 4-of-15. In Friday's loss to Minnesota, he went 3-of-13.

A portion of those misses were uncontested mid-range jumpers, looks that Ibaka typically knocks down. He shot 57 percent a season ago (fourth best in the NBA) and nearly 55 percent between 10 and 16 feet.

“Unfortunately you will have parts of a season where you don't shoot the ball well,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “And we're starting the season not shooting the ball well.”

But with Ibaka, the early struggles stretch a bit beyond those expected in-season lulls.

The expansion of his offensive game is a needed move. It will allow both he and the Thunder to take a step closer to their long-term ceiling.

But it comes with a pair of necessary evils: Growing pains and more statistically inefficient shots.

Ibaka has dipped below his average in the intermediate range. Last season, he shot less than 46 percent between 3 and 10 feet.

Continue reading this story on the...