Don’t ever tell Serge Ibaka he can’t do something. His story is borderline ridiculous. One of 18 children, Ibaka grew up in a country battling itself in a nasty war. He used basketball to escape a war torn country, now speaks five languages and after not playing organized basketball until his late teens, is one of the best defensive enforcers in the league. Heck, I’m sure someone even told him dunking with a foot behind the free throw line wasn’t happening, but he didn’t care.
But that’s just the beginning for Ibaka. As you might imagine for someone that’s as driven and persistent as him, he wants more. He wants to be an All-Star. And he thinks he can do it sooner than later. He told HoopsHype.com, “Yes, I see it happening in one or two years.”
I can see it happening too. Ibaka led the league in total blocks, was eighth in field goal percentage (54.3 percent) finished averaging 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds and in the games he started after Jeff Green was dealt, nearly averaging a double-double. And this is with him being just 21 years old and not at all completely developed.
Ibaka made a giant leap this past season adding in a consistent mid-range jumper that made him a new pick-and-pop threat for Russell Westbrook to dish to. Last season Ibaka walked into every game with the potential to go for 15, but against the Nuggets showcased that he could be a primary threat in any given game. In Game 3, he went for 22 points, 16 rebounds and added four blocks for good measure. He was easily the best player on the floor that night.
And that’s the type of player that indeed could blossom into an All-Star. Because of the roster he’s on, he’s not really going to be a focus. I would guess that Scott Brooks has maybe two plays in the whole playbook actually drawn up for Ibaka and I bet they’re both alley-oops. But he finds points because he works tirelessly on the glass. And you never have to worry about his effort defensively.
Where he needs to improve a little to really take that next step is simply in consistency. You can’t have one night of 13 points, 14 rebounds and then the next get in foul trouble and go for four and two. That was an issue sometimes for Ibaka. Last season he got the minutes he needed to be productive though and now this season, he’ll be Oklahoma City’s starting 4 from day one. That’s big for him.
On top of that he needs to improve as a man-to-man post defender. Dirk Nowitzki kind of torched him in the Western Finals and he struggled against Zach Randolph in the Semis. He’s an all-world help defender, but he’s got to figure out how to use his body to lean, push and maintain position against a good offensive player. Good news for Ibaka: Nick Collison is one of the best in game at that stuff and I’m sure he’s happy to give a lesson or two.
Is he All-Star material right now? Probably not. He has some of the hype needed with news fans getting an introduction to him in the dunk contest and then in the postseason where he had a number of really impressive games. But power forward in the West is pretty stacked. Last season’s All-Star power forwards in the West were Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. And maybe Dirk depending on how you want to classify him. Topping those guys, especially with young players like Griffin and Love in the mix for a while, could be tough. Not to mention Luis Scola, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West (depending on where he goes), Randolph and Paul Millsap.
But don’t give up on Ibaka. Because he’s keen on proving people wrong.