The Oklahoman’s staff writers discuss three topics surrounding Serge Ibaka.
After watching him average career highs in scoring and rebounding this season, what are realistic statistical averages for Serge Ibaka next season?
Darnell Mayberry, Thunder beat writer: I think his scoring will stay around 15 points, but I think he can be even better as a rebounder and passer while also seeing an uptick in his shot-blocking. In addition to going into next season more comfortable, confident and experienced, Ibaka also could benefit from a slight minute increase. So I’ll say he’ll average 15.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 3.0 blocks.
Anthony Slater, Thunder beat writer: He’ll probably be right around those same 15 and nine numbers. No matter how efficient (54 percent shooter) or improved he is, fact still remains: he plays with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They’ll suck up most of the shots, and they’ll suck up a ton more rebounds than your typical small forward and point guard do. His talent is deserving of more opportunities. But it’s hard to find more on this team.
Berry Tramel, Columnist: I think Ibaka is still on the upswing. His rebounding can be even better, and his offense should keep improving. Ibaka averaged 15.1 and 8.8 last season. I think he can get into the 16s scoring and the 9s rebounding. Which is one heck of a ballplayer.
What’s the more likely achievement for Ibaka next season, All-Star or Defensive Player of the Year?
Mayberry: Defensive Player of the Year, which seems like he should be a shoo-in for an All-Star spot, right? Don’t bet on it. All-Star voting is nothing more than a popularity contest, and the West is so loaded with frontcourt players that it could be tough for Ibaka to crack that short list. But his defense already has been recognized. Ibaka has made the All-Defensive First Team three straight years and has finished in the top five in voting for Defensive Player of the Year in each season over that span. Next season could be his breakthrough year.
Slater: How about both? I think Defensive Player of the Year, at this time, is more likely. But what if Tim Duncan retires? What if Kevin Love gets shipped to Boston? What if Dirk Nowtizki finally hits a steadier decline? The West is stacked at the forward position, making it nearly impossible for Ibaka to find his way in the All-Star Game. But there are aging stars and moving parts. And Ibaka’s game has never been better, his reputation never been higher.
Tramel: Defensive Player of the Year. I think he’s got an excellent chance to win it. His value was revealed in the Spurs series, when he missed the first two games Lots of people recognized the void. As for the All-Star Game, just too many good players in the West to be optimistic that Ibaka will be included.
What one thing would you like to see Ibaka do more or better next season?
Mayberry: A back-to-the-basket game still seems like it’s asking too much. And that might never be Ibaka’s game. So I’ll say do more off the dribble. We’ve seen flashes of a show-and-go move from Ibaka. But outside of a two-dribble drive while cupping the basketball, Ibaka has yet to prove he can consistently generate his own scoring opportunities. It’s not the worst thing given the other weapons on this team. But it would only benefit Ibaka and the Thunder, especially in halfcourt sets, for him to have a go-to move and perhaps a counter to that.
Slater: Any semblance of a post game would be nice. The past couple seasons, there were a few times when opposing teams were able to downsize and throw a much smaller guy on Ibaka. James Harden guarded him for brief stretches. Paul Pierce guarded him for most of a game. He’ll never be a ‘dump it down on the block 10 times a game’ guy. And the Thunder don’t need him to be. But Ibaka’s gotta be able to take more advantage of those mismatches just to dissuade teams from using them.
Tramel: Well, his back-to-the-basket moves have been an eternal concern, so who knows if that eve will develop. But I love Ibaka’s new-found drives. Putting the ball on the floor and going to the basket really made Ibaka a more potent offensive weapon, so I’d love to see more of that.