“We don’t go away from Serge,” a defiant Westbrook said at practice Friday. “Our offense is not around Serge, not built around Serge. You have No. 35, Kevin Durant. Averaged 32 points.”
But one of the biggest reasons Durant was freed up enough to average that many points, and maybe the biggest reason Westbrook averaged nearly seven assists, is because of the growth in Ibaka’s offensive game.
He’s a needed and capable third scorer, commanding attention on the boards and sucking the defense away because of his ability to space the floor with his jumper. He averaged 14.7 points this season, turning from dangerous to deadly on the pick-and-pop. And he’s shown the ability to run it effectively with both Durant and Westbrook.
But maybe the Thunder’s most potent offensive play has disappeared in crunch time. Both the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop with Serge have been abandoned. The dribble-and-heave has become more popular.
“Not necessarily we have gone away from it,” Brooks said. “They’ve done a good job of packing the paint, and we have to do a better job of finding our players open.”
Shots aren’t something Ibaka is complaining about. Individual field-goal attempts aren’t splintering this team apart.
“I don’t think now is the time for us to be thinking, ‘How many shots did I get?” he said.
But from a strategic standpoint, more Ibaka would benefit the superstars who have gone away from using him. More spacing. More movement. More balance. More weapons for the Grizzlies to worry about.
Serge Ibaka has been an underutilized weapon all season. And it’s become an even bigger issue in the playoffs.