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Oklahoma City Thunder: With big contract comes big expectations for Serge Ibaka

When he returns for his fifth NBA season, Ibaka will be met by a foreign feeling. Expectations. The Thunder committed to Ibaka last summer with a lucrative new contract that will pay him $49 million over the next four seasons.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 25, 2013
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photo - Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) celebrates a Memphis turnover in the final seconds during Game 1 in the second round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 5, 2013. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) celebrates a Memphis turnover in the final seconds during Game 1 in the second round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Sunday, May 5, 2013. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

If the Thunder is to journey back to the NBA Finals, and this time finish the job once there, Ibaka will have to play an integral role. Judging solely on what we saw when Westbrook sustained a season-ending knee injury, Ibaka wasn't ready for that responsibility in the postseason.

He averaged 0.4 points less in the playoffs and saw his field goal percentage plummet, dropping from 57.3 percent in the regular season to 43.7 percent in the postseason.

It was Ibaka's first time playing without Westbrook, and Ibaka struggled mightily to elevate his offensive game without his point guard who had long been the source of so much of Ibaka's scoring.

“I didn't think one day Russ would get hurt,” Ibaka said. “Everything was going good. Everything was going the way I want. I was getting my shot wide open, pick and roll, pick and pop, offensive rebounds. But then everything changed. So right now I just need to just learn from it and move on.”

Ibaka said his main focus this summer will be working on his game. He said he wants to be able to create his own shot next season and be ready if the unthinkable happens again.

“I will never forget about defense,” Ibaka said. “I will keep improving my defense because that's my number one option. But also try to be ready when my team needs me offensively.”

Ibaka's postseason wasn't always pretty. But it might have been pivotal if he does indeed become better because of it.

“He went through a couple things; a little adversity but he bounced back,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.

“I thought Serge really grew up. It was a few times he could have hung his head but he didn't. He just kept pushing. He put a lot of pressure on himself to start making shots, which I thought kind of hurt him in a way. But that just tells you how much he wanted to win, how much he wanted to do well.”

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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