As the Thunder continues its quest to reinvent itself in the wake of its highly scrutinized shake-up, two players are becoming bigger weapons on the offensive end.
Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor.
In each of the last two games, both have shown more assertiveness and, as a result, provided the Thunder with much better balance both in the starting lineup and on the bench.
On Friday night, Ibaka scored a career-high 25 points to lead the Thunder to a routine 105-94 victory over a winless Detroit team playing the fifth of six straight road games. Maynor added 13 points off the bench.
The duo made 14 of 19 shots, which helped the Thunder shake off a slow start and ultimately shoot a season-high 53.5 percent from the floor.
It was the first time in Ibaka's career that he's had back-to-back 20-plus-point games. One night earlier, he scored 21 in a six-point win at Chicago. Against the Pistons, his offense was very much needed to pick up the slack of Russell Westbrook, who struggled with his shot for the second straight night before finishing with 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
More importantly, Ibaka's continued growth as a scorer is supplying the Thunder's first unit with that critical third threat it has lacked since Jeff Green was traded to Boston. After scoring just 11 points on 5-for-18 shooting in the season's first two games, Ibaka has averaged 19.3 points on 67.4 percent shooting over the past four contests.
“Serge played really inspired basketball on both ends,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Ibaka added seven rebounds and blocked three shots while making nine of 13 shots. For the second time in as many nights, Ibaka benefited from a fast start, perhaps a sign of how the Thunder can keep his scoring up. Ibaka scored the Thunder's first four points and had six by the end of the opening quarter.
Most impressive is how Ibaka is scoring within the flow of the offense.
“It's not like we're just force-feeding him, throwing it down in the post and just saying ‘Serge, get a basket,'” said Kevin Durant, who scored 25 points to share team-high honors with Ibaka. “He's playing off of guys … and making that jump shot and just loosening up the offense for everybody else as the game goes along. He's getting more opportunities this year.”