Serge Ibaka is doing things he didn't consistently do before.
Some of them are basic, like locating and landing in the open spot offensively.
Some are more intricate, like reading and reacting to defenses and making the right pass.
But the Thunder's starting power forward is now blossoming into a well-rounded ballplayer, giving Oklahoma City a much-needed additional offensive threat in its first unit.
Ibaka's development can be attributed in part to six weeks playing with the Spanish national team this summer. Playing in a system that was heavily reliant on its big men being facilitators rather than the beneficiary of wing playmakers, Ibaka was forced to adapt to a different style. And while playing behind the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, Ibaka got a front-row seat to two of the world's best passing big men.
“You could tell he just watched those guys and learned a lot,” said Kevin Durant.
It's almost shocking to now see Ibaka's improvement offensively.
More than ever before, Ibaka is floating to open spots for midrange jumpers and cutting through the lane for easy dump-off passes that end in uncontested dunks. When he gets the ball at the high post, Ibaka has learned to turn in rhythm and find shooters on the perimeter or slashers attacking the basket.
“He dedicated his summer to getting better,” said Thabo Sefolosha. “You can see it.”
In his four preseason games, Ibaka has averaged 14.3 points on 52 percent shooting. Perhaps more encouraging is he's already registered three assists, hinting that his passing could be on the verge of becoming a weapon as well. As a rookie, Ibaka had just 10 assists. In his second season, Ibaka finished with 22 assists. Last year, he had 28.
“That kind of stuff is coming natural because I played a lot in the summer,” Ibaka said.
On Sunday night in the Thunder's 108-101 win over Denver, Ibaka confidently stood behind the 3-point arc in the left corner and drained both attempts in the game's first six minutes. He joked that he's not quite ready to add his name in the 3-point contest.
“I'm not going that far,” he said, laughing. “That's too much for me.”
Ibaka is still happy to just do his job, which will continue to be rebounding, blocking shots and running the floor for early offense. But as this preseason schedule snakes to its end, you can't help but start to think about how Ibaka's offensive development will impact the Thunder.
With Ibaka, Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins flanking Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Thunder still has three defensive-minded players in its first five. In the past, that's put enormous pressure on the team's two All-Stars to generate points while essentially ignoring their other three teammates.
But Ibaka's improved range, passing and ability to read defenses can transform him into the third scoring threat the Thunder sorely lacks. As he evolves this season, Ibaka's offense also can help alleviate pressure that James Harden and the second unit often has to be a spark.
It's now up to his Thunder teammates to take advantage of Ibaka's growing skill set.
Ibaka appears ready, willing and able.
“Serge is a very determined athlete,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, “and he has a lot of pride … He just has that inner drive to always perform at a high level.”