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Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka should be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year next season

The Thunder found out just how much it missed its most electric interior defender during the Western Conference finals series vs. San Antonio.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 19, 2014

The date was May 19, 2014.

That’s when Serge Ibaka’s campaign officially began for next year’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

It was Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder was in San Antonio. Ibaka was back in Oklahoma City.

With a calf injury sidelining its most electric interior defender, the Thunder got lit up. The Spurs scored 67 points in the first half, with 40 of them coming in the paint, before they finished with 122 points and 66 paint points.

The Thunder, with a mere three blocked shots that night, had been exposed.

Game 2 was only marginally better.

Two nights later, with Ibaka still out, San Antonio posted 112 points, with 54 of them coming in the paint.

At that moment, the world gained a newfound appreciation for Serge Ibaka’s impact on the Thunder. In terms of his reputation, Ibaka had benefited from being out in the same strange way that Russell Westbrook finally did through similar misfortune in last year’s postseason.

With that out of the way, the future looks awfully bright for Ibaka. We’re talking possible All-Star appearances, potential Defensive Player of the Year awards.

But for now, Ibaka looks like he’ll simply be one of the biggest bargains in basketball.

The Thunder took a ton of criticism when it signed Ibaka to a four-year, $49 million deal in August 2012. It was a contract that came before one with James Harden was ever consummated, and many fans ultimately lumped Ibaka’s deal into reasons why Harden was traded to Houston.

Two years later, Ibaka’s $12.35 million annual salary over the next three seasons looks like the Thunder got a sweetheart deal for a player who’ll be only 25 next season and already has led the league in total blocks four straight seasons and been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team three years running.

Ibaka made just $350,000 more than Kris Humphries and David West this season. Next season, Ibaka still might not crack the top 40 player salaries.

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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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