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.
With the Thunder making a more concerted effort to get him the ball in both face-up and post isolation, he'll likely take more shots in his cold areas.
With experience will come improvement. But in the first two games, he looked uncomfortable in those spots, firing up some errant floaters and badly air balling a hook shot.
Some will argue his struggles have to do with the absence of Russell Westbrook.
And there is plenty of validity to that point. OKC's All-Star point guard makes life easier for everybody. But particularly Ibaka, who thrives off Westbrook's ability to find him in rhythm for mid-range jumpers out of the two-man game.
In the 11 games Westbrook has missed with injury, Ibaka has shot 34 percent.
“We need him to do (the pick-and-pop),” Brooks said of Ibaka. “That's what he's really good at. There's no question that he has expanded his offensive game, but he still has to do what he's good at. He's one of the best pick-and-pops in the league.”
But even when Westbrook returns, the Thunder will likely still feature Ibaka in isolation sets.
With Ibaka now receiving more than $12 million annually, OKC is committed to his long-term development. And with his natural athleticism and youth, there's still plenty of room to grow.
But that eye toward the future may cause an efficiency dip in the present.