Of course, Ibaka has played only two preseason games and has a ton left to prove — improved post defense, better pick-and-roll defense and a commitment to staying out of foul trouble among other things. But you can’t help but be encouraged with how Ibaka has returned for his fourth season.
Last year’s leader in blocked shots is every bit as committed to protecting the paint. When he wasn’t busy defending former Thunder center Byron Mullens (16 points on 4-for-10 shooting from behind the 3-point line) on the perimeter Tuesday, Ibaka challenged every Bobcats slasher that dared drive the lane.
But it’s Ibaka’s offensive game that is beginning to stand out.
Previously limited to getting baskets by running the floor and getting putbacks, Ibaka is now providing glimpses of how he might become an integral part of what, frankly, still will be an offensively challenged starting unit.
On several occasions in the past two games, Ibaka has found his way to the open spot on the floor and made himself a big target by flashing with his hands high and feet set. It helps that he’s as consistent as we remember with his midrange jumper and even looks to have extended his range.
Ibaka’s post game is growing as well. Working from the high post against Mullens on one second-half possession, Ibaka went into a sensational shimmy that created enough separation to turn and release an open jumper.
“That just takes time,” Maynor said. “Playing with each other for such a long time, you get more comfortable, and that’s what it looks like he’s out there doing.”