Overlooked and perhaps underappreciated since the trade that brought Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City is the opportunity the deal has presented Serge Ibaka.
But Ibaka, the second-year forward who just keeps getting better, has forced us to pay attention.
Ibaka has become a consistent game-changer for the Thunder since replacing Jeff Green as the starting power forward. In 12 games since the four-player trade with Boston, Ibaka has averaged 9.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.66 blocks.
“His confidence is sky high right now,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
More impressively, Ibaka has manufactured his production despite averaging just 29.8 minutes over that span — still a shade below what's typically classified as starter's minutes. It suggests Ibaka is only scratching the surface of what he's capable of. And there is certainly room to grow.
Foul trouble has rarely been the barrier many figured it might be in keeping Ibaka from receiving major minutes. Ibaka has averaged just three fouls since stepping in with the first unit. He's become smarter and more patient, learning how to stay down on shot fakes while avoiding some of the over-aggressive foul calls that plagued him last year and early this season.
“This is my second year in the NBA,” Ibaka said. “I have a little more experience right now.”
Ibaka's impact, meanwhile, has been remarkable. With Ibaka, the Thunder's defense hasn't just been different. It's been downright dominant.
The Thunder has given up just 95.3 points per game since the trade. OKC has held teams to 90 points or less in six of the 12 games, and opponents have shot just 43.5 percent over the past 12 games. The Thunder also has blocked 6.5 shots since the All-Star break, including a league-leading 7.5 rejections in the last 10 games. (Ibaka's 4.1 rejections over that span lead the league.)
By comparison, Oklahoma City's pre-All-Star defense allowed 101.1 points, gave up 46 percent shooting and blocked 5.6 shots per night.
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Thunder vs. Raptors
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Oklahoma City Arena
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, 640-AM