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Oklahoma City Thunder: Five ways Serge Ibaka can prove he is worth his contract

Expectations for the Thunder's fourth-year power forward will skyrocket next season.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: September 2, 2012
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photo - NBA BASKETBALL: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) looks to drive past Miami's Chris Bosh (1) during Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
NBA BASKETBALL: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) looks to drive past Miami's Chris Bosh (1) during Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Improve man-to-man post defense

Opponents shot 40.7 percent against Ibaka on post-ups last season, a career best for Ibaka and 10 percent lower than what he yielded as a rookie. But he still has a ways to go. This is the most difficult area of improvement that Ibaka needs to concentrate on, but it's a significant one since it could have the biggest impact on the team. Better footwork and additional discipline is needed to shore up this area. As he gets deeper into this contract, Ibaka needs not bite on pump fakes, get caught out of position or be flat-footed when entry passes are thrown into his man.

Rebounding with more consistency

Ibaka pulled down at least 10 rebounds only 17 times out of 66 games last year. His 7.5 rebounds per game ranked second on the Thunder last season, trailing team leader Kevin Durant by 0.5 rebounds and edging out notoriously erratic rebounding center Kendrick Perkins by just 0.9 boards. Defensively, Ibaka can be a much better rebounder. He averaged just 4.6 defensive rebounds last season, or nearly three fewer than Durant. Ibaka's passion for shot-blocking is partly to blame, and while it aids the Thunder's defense it also can be a detriment when Ibaka is out of position for rebounds. It also doesn't help Ibaka that the Thunder has terrific rebounding guards. Still, a 10-rebound average should be a given for Ibaka.

Play without fouling

At first glance (at least statistically), Ibaka's 2.7 fouls per game don't appear to be a problem. But when you factor in his playing time — just 27 minutes per game last season — it becomes clear how much fouling limits Ibaka's effectiveness. Ibaka averaged 4.8 fouls per 48 minutes last year, seventh worst among starting power forwards. The soon-to-be 23 year old has ample upside to warrant $12 million plus per year. But the first step toward living up to the contract and becoming a more complete player is staying out of foul trouble and actually staying on the court.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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