“I think that's who he is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's not just having a good season. I see him being among the league leaders every year.”
With Ibaka patrolling the paint, the Thunder's team blocks ballooned from 5.5 per game before the trade to 6.8 on average after it. Oklahoma City also held opponents to 3.8 fewer points per game while reducing its defensive field-goal percentage by 2.2 percent.
Oh, and as for those offensive concerns?
The Thunder has actually scored 0.7 more points since the trade while shooting slightly better from the field and from beyond the arc.
Did we mention the Thunder went 19-7 following the trade that paved the way for Ibaka to become a starter?
“If I (look at) myself from last year to this year, I really did get better,” Ibaka said. “I really did progress. And I am sure I can get better.”
The Thunder doesn't have to hope so. The team knows Ibaka is not a finished product. The only hope is that he shows growth in this year's playoffs. Last year's first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers was Ibaka's coming-out party. Game 2 to be exact. Although the Thunder fell by three on the road, Ibaka tallied seven of the Thunder's 17 blocked shots. The performance against the champs had officially put the league on notice.
Now, the Denver Nuggets need beware. But unlike last season, when his role was simply to rebound, block shots and run the floor in the postseason, Ibaka's responsibilities have grown.
Ibaka can now call for the ball on the block and know that he has a growing number of moves he can go to for a bucket. His faceup game, meanwhile, has been fantastic. The statistics, 42 percent from 16 to 23 feet, aren't stellar but they show the growth in a second-year player who shot only 39 percent from that range as a rookie.
And when you add those developing offensive weapons to Ibaka's average of 3.4 blocks in March, a career-best for any month, and 3.1 rejections in April, it all adds up to form a player who's morphing into a machine.
“A freak,” Perkins branded Ibaka.
The freak just needed an opening.
And deep down, despite those initial moments of trepidation, Ibaka knew he was ready. He had been preparing for this opportunity since his childhood days in the Congo, grooming for his shot at basketball glory since he jump started his pro career in Spain.
“I always told myself if I am humble and keep working hard one day I would do something important in basketball. And I didn't do it yet,” Ibaka said. “I'm sure if I keep working like I do right now I will do it one day.”