To the delight of I think every Thunder fan out there, Serge Ibaka saw his first real playing time of the season Friday night in Detroit. He played three minutes and just pulled down one rebound. He didn’t do much but Scott Brooks likely wanted to just get Ibaka some burn and will likely kind of work him into the fold as we go.The way he’s going to find a place in the rotation is if he brings great energy and does work on the defensive end. But how did he do? After the jump, I’m going to put on my breakdown hat and look closely at a few possessions with Ibaka. (h/t to reader Johnny for the video)
First defensive possession:
I’m not sure what Scott Brooks’ help defense principles are, but this can’t be right. Krstic is playing his man, Ben Wallace on the block. Charlie Villanueva, Ibaka’s man, just ran baseline to the weak side. Ibaka doesn’t follow but instead hangs in the paint to help on Will Bynum’s drive. Two things: 1) Krstic can’t completely peel off and help because that’s an easy drive and dish to Wallace for a dunk. But at the same time, it’s his responsibility because HIS MAN is hanging in the paint. Ibaka is fine to help here, but the fact that his man has floated to the arc and is a decent 3-point shooter means that he can’t completely commit to helping here.
The result of Ibaka’s help. Durant crashes. Sefolosha, being the good defender he is, recovers. Krstic has come over too. That’s got to be poor communication between the two. Again, it’s fine if both help on the drive, but both can’t be so committed to it. Ibaka needs to be about where Wallace is standing – this way he can fly over and swat Bynum if Bynum chooses to attack the rim, but also close on Villanueva on the kick. But as you can see, four Thunder defenders surround Bynum with Charlie V standing open on the wing. We all know where the ball is going next.
Not only has Ibaka come completely over to help, but now he’s bitten on a pump fake. Krstic has correctly dropped by to his man in the paint, but now the ball is going to Villanueva on the wing and a scramble is going to have to happen. This is what drive-oriented guards salivate over. Get a defense scrambling and rotating and mismatches happen, poor closeouts happen and most times, an open driving lane happens.
Russell Westbrook, being the good defender he is, has rotated down on Villanueva, forcing the extra pass back to the top of the key. Not to be lost in this is the Pistons solid ball movement. The ball is going to the correct places on the floor. But now because of Ibaka’s original overplay, a mismatch is about to happen at the top of the key.
And your end result. Rodney Stuckey has Ibaka closing out on him which equals easy penetration. Stuckey goes right around Serge and drops in a runner for two. The thing is, it’s not like Ibaka wasn’t working during this possession. He tried to help, but he just committed a bit too much. He scrambled well, but it’s not easy for a 6-10 guy to close out on a speed guard like Rodney Stuckey. But again, not to be lost in this is the fact that Ibaka was busting his rear here. There was just some poor communication between him and Krstic and a bit of an overplay on the original drive by Bynum. And that’s all it takes in the NBA. Give and extra inch and you could get burned.
Second defensive possession:
I thought Serge actually did good work here. He had to help on Tayshaun Prince after Durant bit on a head fake. Ibaka closed off Prince’s drive and recovered well on Villanueva who leaked to the 3-point line. Villanueva got a decent look, but truly, there wasn’t a whole lot more Ibaka could do. He had to close off Prince, who had a clear path to the bucket.
Third defensive possession:
Pretty straightforward and simple: Ibaka over-denies. You can see he’s trying to take away Stuckey’s entry pass on the block which is good, but he doesn’t need to be completely on Villanueva’s left hip. With where Stuckey is standing, playing more straight behind Villanueva would be better. A lot of defense is about trust. Ibaka has got to trust that Thabo can get to a pass made to Villanueva from this angle. So Bak (I heard his teammates call him that Friday; I like it) should be playing a little more behind Villanueva and ball-denying from there. The bad part about this play is the Serge basically hands it to him – Charlie V doesn’t even really have to work hard for the position he got. All it takes is an easy spin and Villanueva is free for a delivery from Stuckey. Lucky for Ibaka, the pass was a bit late and Villanueva didn’t finish.
The fifth possession is a run-out for Detroit and the sixth was a quick drive and shot from Stuckey with Ibaka helping perfectly. The seventh, Ben Gordon finished on a runner off a pick-and-roll with Villanueva. Ibaka really couldn’t have done too much different except maybe close Gordon out a little better. This one was more the fault of Krstic who was a touch late stepping up to cut off Gordon’s floater. But sometimes, the defense can be solid and a talented offensive player just makes a play. And the final possession was a long launch by Gordon at the buzzer.
All in all, in two short minutes we saw a little of Ibaka and I think just that little breath of action will give Scott Brooks and Ron Adams a good amount to school Ibaka with. It’s not like he was completely lost out there, he was just a bit off. He’s got pretty good instincts and with his length and athleticism, he could be a very quality defender. But it’s about communication, trust and hard work on the defensive end. What’s encouraging is that it’s pretty evident that Ibaka’s got the hard work part down. And that’s the only part you can’t teach.