The ink might barely be dry on Serge Ibaka's shiny new contract. But that won't stop the expectations for the Thunder's fourth-year power forward from skyrocketing next season.
Leading the league in blocked shots no longer will be enough for Ibaka now that he's about to take home a $49 million salary. He'll need to improve and improve in a hurry to live up to a deal that will pay him $12.25 million annually between 2013 and 2017.
Given his incredible rate of development thus far, Ibaka should have no problem continuing his development. It helps, too, that most of the holes in Ibaka's game seem to be easily fixable problems that, if remedied, can take his play to another level.
Here are five simple ways Ibaka can improve and transform his lucrative new contract from a good deal into a great deal.
Catch the ball better
Officially, Ibaka had just 79 turnovers last season. But Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha all know a bunch of their turnovers should have belonged to Ibaka, who inexplicably botched a boatload of passes. Thunder coach Scott Brooks at the end of the season attempted to stick up for Ibaka's poor paws when he said “It's not like he's Fred Biletnikoff or anything, but he doesn't have bad hands.” But the fact is that if Ibaka just caught passes cleanly, he'd be much more of an offensive threat. Ibaka has worked to improve his hands through drills since his rookie season, and he has improved. Whenever he masters the art of catching, though, Ibaka's teammates will gain more trust in him and his scoring average likely will see an immediate spike.
Finish stronger at the rim
Nene, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Carlos Boozer, David Lee, Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin. Each of those players earn between $10 million and $14 million. And each shot at least 65 percent at the rim last season. Griffin, not surprisingly, led the way among that group at 74 percent. Ibaka connected on just 57.6 percent of his shots at the rim last season. That's a pretty paltry percentage for a player as athletic as Ibaka. But it stems from Ibaka's baffling tendency to be a finesse player more often than a power player. Too many times Ibaka settles for a soft lay-in as opposed to a ferocious dunk, and when he goes up soft he generally misses easy shots. To reach his full potential, Ibaka must boost his shooting percentage around the rim by at least nine percentage points.