Well this is the end of our five part look into the things I’d personally like to see happen next season for the Thunder. Much like the previous four installments, this one has been a hot button issue for the fan base and I suspect it will continue to be until the players involved settle the debate organically by how they play.
But without further ado, here is Part V…
I want to see Serge Ibaka emerge as the Thunder’s starting PF.
I know a lot of people are going to see this as a shot at Jeff Green and it’s not. Not at all. The fact of the matter is that I have always and will always continue to believe that Jeff Green has a very important role for this team and the Thunder franchise (and yes, that role is on the court and not some weird KD BFF or “calming presence in the locker room” nonsense. Jeff Green is better than you probably think he is, trust me).
Now obviously I’m not one of the people who want Green dealt or dream up trades where somehow he gets traded for an All-Star caliber PF despite those very same people saying he stinks and somehow equating “stinky player + picks or expiring contracts” = “trading for an All-Star PF.” Fuzzy math is fun, just not very logical.
But I digress…
What this is really about is what kind of role Jeff Green has on the Thunder team and, no matter what you think about Serge Ibaka or Jeff Green, I think we can all agree that the PF position for the Thunder is relatively unsettled. The people who love Jeff Green readily admit to the fact that he has to get better on the block, at rebounding, etc, etc if he’s going to make a career of being a stretch PF in the NBA. This fact is typically not disputed.
On the contrary, the people who aren’t in love with Jeff Green want him to either move to the bench and become an all-purpose Sixth Man, usually spending time at both forward positions, because his versatility and unique skill-set would make him a nightmare off the bench for opposing teams and that role seems almost tailored for him specifically or, well, they want him traded as soon as possible for that mythical stud big man.
But don’t you see the common thread in both these camps? The whole, “Jeff Green has not looked like the long-term answer at PF for the Thunder if they want to take that next step” part that both sides seem to agree upon? No matter how much they love or loathe Green?
That is why I, barring an unforeseen improvement in Green’s shooting percentage from outside (you can’t really be called a stretch 4 when your outside game is not actually stretching the defense any because you’re not making a high enough percentage of three pointers to pull other PF’s away from the basket) or his offensive post play/rebounding, I think that about halfway through the season, or maybe even a bit past that, we will all see this situation resolve itself without any drama or disruption.
Put bluntly: I think Serge Ibaka will be a better PF at some point in this season than Jeff Green is for the Thunder.
And that statement should really come as no surprise since Jeff Green’s skills aren’t that of a PF, his size and style of play aren’t particularly suited for a PF and, well, Green is doing a fairly admirable job playing out of position WHILE not having a center with the skills that could offset Green’s skills in the post.
You see, Serge Ibaka fills a hole that the Thunder have in the post that Jeff Green just can’t partly because of who the Thunder trot out there at center. In fact, you could argue that part of Green’s struggles at the PF spot have just as much to do with the Thunder centers as Jeff Green’s tweener status does.
And Serge Ibaka is a tweener as well. It’s just that he’s between a center and a power forward instead of a power forward and a small forward. And for a team so bent on being a dominant defensive force, the Thunder will continue to lack solid post defense until either Serge Ibaka forces Brooks to give him more minutes in the paint at the 4 or, and this is a best-case/dream scenario, Cole Aldrich turns into Joakim Noah 2.0 and erases a lot of Green’s and everyone else’s defensive troubles at the rim.
But which one of those is more likely to happen?
Jeff Green is entering his fourth season in the NBA and after the expected jump in production from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign, Green’s numbers seem to be fairly easy to pin down if he continues to be played primarily at the PF spot: 15-16 points, 5-6 rebounds, 1.5-2 assists, 1 steal and shooting 35% from 3PT land and 45% from the field in about 37 minutes a game.
Solid numbers, sure. But by no means eye-opening or really assuring from a post player. Especially when the other post player Green is typically paired with is pulling down fewer rebounds and scoring fewer points on average, making it that much more important for Green to be a force at the rim and on the boards.
Plus, I just can’t help wonder what those numbers could look like if Green came off the bench and split time at both forward positions, carrying the scoring load (which he can infinitely better than Ibaka ever could) on the Thunder’s second unit, who so desperately needs a scoring punch, especially if Harden gets pegged as a starter.
You see, when it comes down to it for the Thunder, and Jeff Green, and Serge Ibaka, it’s really all about fit.
To me, Serge Ibaka fits better as a PF with the starting unit, whereas Jeff Green fits better as the all-around, utility Lamar Odom-ish Sixth Man that is a matchup nightmare for second units (and some first units).
Remember, I never said I think Serge Ibaka will become a better basketball player than Jeff Green at some point this season. I just said he’d be the better PF for the Thunder.
And while I don’t think Serge is anywhere near close to ready right now to take the starting PF spot from Green, I think if he continues to progress the way he did during his remarkable rookie campaign (seriously, just go back and check out his #’s, check out his progression from month to month…shoot, watch the footage, too!), I think Serge Ibaka will make this argument moot because everyone will be unable to come up with a reason why he shouldn’t get the lion’s share of minutes at PF for the Thunder.
Even Jeff Green—who I genuinely believe would flourish in the Sixth Man role and possibly mean even more to the Thunder than he does now, which is a lot.