Oklahoma City Thunder: How Serge Ibaka sent 'Air Congo' soaring in a new direction

SERGE IBAKA — The Thunder power forward gained notoriety for his blocked shots and soaring dunks. Now the rest of Serge Ibaka's game is taking flight.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: January 5, 2013
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photo - REACTION: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) reacts beside Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (41) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012.  Oklahoma City won 111-105. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
REACTION: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) reacts beside Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (41) during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. Oklahoma City won 111-105. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

“Now we expect it from him,” said Kevin Durant. “When he has a double-double it's not like breaking news.”

Lately, Ibaka has been on a tear, providing a glimpse of his potential to be a game-changer in all facets, on both ends.

Four of Ibaka's six double-doubles have come in the past 10 games. Over that span, Ibaka has averaged 14.9 points and 10.9 rebounds.

In the first 22 games, Ibaka averaged 14 points and 7.4 rebounds.

The bump in Ibaka's rebounding numbers stemmed from Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who in recent days inspired Ibaka to be more aggressive on the glass. Thus far, the results are most readily seen in Ibaka's offensive rebounding numbers. He's averaging 3.8 offensive rebounds over the past 10 games compared to 2.3 in the first 22.

That 3.8 average would rank Ibaka sixth among all players.

“He's always been a pretty good defensive rebounder,” Brooks said. “But this year we've challenged him. And give him credit, he's locking in on the offensive side of the rebounds.

“He has quickness, he has strength and he has the jumping ability to get offensive rebounds. But you just have to go every time... I think now he's going every time and they're adding up. He has the ability to be our best offensive rebounder along with his defensive rebounds.”

Ibaka's recent rebound rate perhaps provides the blueprint for how he might someday reach his still unfathomable ceiling.

Though he's polished his post game, mid-range jumper and 3-point shot, Ibaka still must take a backseat on offensive to Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. But as we've seen over the past three weeks, Ibaka is more than capable making an impact with hustle plays that lead to points off putbacks.

And while pleased with his development, Ibaka still isn't satisfied.

“I work hard. I try to do the best I can,” Ibaka said. “I'm getting better and better. I don't want just to be like people used to know Serge Ibaka four years ago. Now it's my fourth year in the NBA so I'm trying to get better at everything.”

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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THUNDER'S NEXT FIVE

SUNDAY: at Toronto, Noon (FSOK) — For whatever reason, the Raptors have always given the Thunder fits. OKC is just 4-3 all-time against Toronto.

MONDAY: at Washington, 6 p.m. (FSOK) — Toronto followed by Washington should be a gimme back-to-back, but OKC lost in its last visit to both places.

WEDNESDAY: vs. Minnesota, 7 p.m. (FSOK) — Thunder was 21-4 and on a 12-game winning streak before the Timberwolves derailed OKC on Dec. 20.

FRIDAY: at Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN, FSOK) — Lakers lost earlier meeting in OKC on Dec. 7, but they didn't have Steve Nash or Pau Gasol.

JAN. 13: at Portland, 8 p.m. (FSOK) — Guard Damian Lillard is the pending rookie of the year, plus Trail Blazers are tough to beat at the Rose Garden.

By JOHN ROHDE

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