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.
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