Thursday, December 27, 2012

Serge Ibaka's Expanded Game

Before the season started, the Oklahoma City Thunder made an unexpected move trading away sixth man of the year James Harden.  While many have skewed this trade into a Westbrook vs. Harden scenario, the truth is that the choice was between Serge Ibaka and Harden.  The choice was really one of basketball theory; what would be better title nucleus, three perimeter ball handlers or two ball handlers and a big man?  The Thunder went the conventional route with the big man and so far it has worked.

The Thunder have the second best record in the NBA and Serge Ibaka's improved play has been a huge part of that.  He has improved in almost every facet of the game and has posted career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  All this while still being an intimidating force at the rim and improving on on his rotations.

When Harden left it was clear that somebody was going to have to step up on offense and he has clearly done that.  His shooting has improved drastically and he has become maybe the best pick and pop player in the league.  He is shooting 61.9% from 10-15 and 50% from 16-23 feet.  He is getting the ball more often on the pick and roll and finishing at a much higher rate.  It is also clear that a lot of this has to do with confidence.  He is encouraged to take shots and the Thunder have started running plays for him.  He is even experimenting with the three point shot.

Sure, James Harden is developing into a superstar, but Serge Ibaka is playing the best basketball of his career.  It isn't clear yet if the Thunder made the right decision, but it is clear that Serge Ibaka is about dis life.          

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