When he heard Thunder forward Serge Ibaka had just been named to the NBA All-Defensive first team on Wednesday, teammate Nazr Mohammed had a succinct and understated reaction.
“Like they say – ‘Duh,'” Mohammed said with a smile. “If he wasn't, it would have been a travesty.”
The 22-year-old Ibaka easily led the league in blocked shots with 241 this season – 106 more than runner-up DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Despite averaging just 27.2 minutes per game, Ibaka averaged 3.65 blocks.
“It's good first of all for myself and my teammates,” Ibaka said of being selected. “It's something that will give me more confidence to keep working on my defense, to keep being aggressive and try to help my team. I want to thank all my team because Perk (center Kendrick Perkins) helped me a lot. If I have this mentality right now to be aggressive on defense, it's because of Perk. He helped me a lot. Nick (Collison) also, Nazr, all the guys. Like I said, it's about team.”
Also named to the first team were league Most Valuable Player LeBron James of Miami, Orlando center Dwight Howard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul and Memphis guard and former Oklahoma State standout Tony Allen.
The team is chosen by position – two guards, two forwards, one center – and was voted on by the league's 30 head coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.
Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook said Ibaka deserved to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, an award selected by media members and won by New York center Tyson Chandler, who wound up on the All-Defensive second team behind Howard.
“That's a tremendous honor. It shows how much he's grown,” Durant said of Ibaka.
Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha received honorable mention in the voting. Westbrook received two first-team votes and Sefolosha received one.
Ibaka is one of 18 siblings and both his parents played for the national team in the Republic of Congo, where he was born.
Selected as an 18-year-old out of the Spanish League, Ibaka was the 24th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft and played in Spain for one year before joining the Thunder for the 2009-10 season.
Ibaka had 10-plus blocks in three games in a 19-day span this February, which included a triple-double of 14 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocks against Denver on Feb. 19.
Though “altered shots” are not charted by the Thunder staff, coach Scott Brooks said 5-6 altered shots per game would be a fair estimate.
“He had a phenomenal year contesting shots for us,” Durant said. “He might not have blocked every single shot, but he put his impact on the game contesting a lot of shots and changing a lot of shots.”
Ibaka's imposing defense certainly will be required when the Thunder faces the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, with Game 1 on the road Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
The Spurs have one of the greatest power forwards ever in Tim Duncan, who is complemented with the outside shooting of starting forward Boris Diaw and reserve Matt Bonner.
Brooks must decide when to go with a smaller lineup that would have Ibaka defend Duncan and Durant defend Diaw or Bonner at the stretch 4 position.
Thunder defenders also must contend with the perpetual pick-and-roll play of All-Star point guard Tony Parker, who erupted for a career-high 42 points and nine assists in a 107-96 victory at home against OKC on Feb. 4.
“He's done things that not a lot of guys could do throughout a season,” Westbrook said of Ibaka's defense. “He's become a great pick-and-roll defender, help side, he just does a lot of great things.”
Mohammed explained Ibaka's mere presence on the court.
“He's out there,” Mohammed said of Ibaka's skill level. “He changes so many shots. He has guys second-guessing. He affects the game without scoring a bucket, and guys like that are first team All-Defense.”