Serge Ibaka is not an All-Star this year. We the fans did not vote him in, and they, the coaches, didn’t either.
When everyone was writing their think pieces and making their slide shows about who should replace Kobe Bryant on the West squad, rarely was Ibaka’s name thrown out there with any kind of passion. Dudes will go to war over Anthony Davis not getting picked, but Ibaka’s omission was handled with a great deal of indifference. When the reserves were picked, there was no chatter about Ibaka being snubbed. Instead, everyone cried foul at the exclusion of Davis, Goran Dragic, and DeMarcus Cousins.
Mind you, Dragic has been unreal for an out-of-absolutely-nowhere Suns squad, Davis has turned into something akin to whatever you’d call the combo of Barkley’s and Bradley’s Monstars, and Boogs is loved by a particular subset of basketball fan that is about that anti life. But we’re talking about the second best player on the team with the best record in the league and no one’s saying anything about him. It’s just crickets. Davis was picked to replace Kobe despite his having missed a multitude of games due to injury. For whatever reason, Ibaka just doesn’t get people going.
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In a way, Durant’s loud January hurt Ibaka. Not on the floor — quite the opposite there — but off the court, there was no room to talk about anyone else when the Thunder went on their January tear. What Durant was doing was too unreal. The narrative established was one man taking on the entire world and setting fire to it. In a way that was true, Durant burnt the whole damn place down, but Ibaka was lighting some of the torches and handing them Durant’s way.
There’s a quietness to Ibaka that does him no good when it comes to potential All-Star selections. And while there are spikes in the volume of his game — dunks, blocks, the occasional shoving match — he usually maintains and stays within the flow of the game. He makes his offensive bones with a jump shot that, for a couple years now, has been one of the best, most consistent in the league from 15-17 feet and on defense, he patrols the paint and unleashes hell upon those that might forget about his sculpted, nuclear existence on the weak side. Always coming over to help, sending weak offerings into the third row. His game has gotten smoother and his skill set has increased every year since he’s been in the league. And now, with the Thunder doing much more than treading water since Westbrook went down, Ibaka’s playing the best, most complete ball of his short — seriously, this is only his fifth year in the league — career.
A few days ago Royce gave you Ibaka’s averages over his last 15 games in his Thunder player power rankings so I won’t regurgitate those. I’ll just give you what he’s done in his last 11 games.
18.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 2.6 BPG, 63% FG, 50% 3FG, 82% FT
Somebody’s leaning on the volume knob.
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ESPN’s/ABC’s/Grantland’s/JRLA’s/That-one-PMD-video-where-he’s-playing-Sega-with-Ice Cube’s own Jalen Rose went on record in Grantland’s Third Birdmester saying that Ibaka should’ve been an All Star. Said they should reward winning. Pushing my bias to the front, I’d tend to agree. With Westbrook out, Ibaka’s been the Thunder’s second best player. Where in previous seasons he’s struggled with consistency, he’s been a model of steadiness this year. The jumper has stayed. So have the blocks. His game has expanded out beyond the three point line. Again, 50% from out there. That’s remarkable. And with every three he hits, he opens up the floor. That’s evident now, imagine how much more so it’ll be when Westbrook’s back to hurling himself at the rim again.
Granted, Ibaka is not the type that can create his own offense. He doesn’t have that in him yet. He gets his buckets off pick n’ pops, drop offs, and offensive rebounds. He needs somebody that can find him in his spots and get him open looks. But where before he had, maybe, three spots on the floor he felt comfortable, now it’s as though he’s bumped that number up into the double digits. And if he’s playing this way now, again, imagine what he’s going to look like when Russ gets back and is able to start getting him even more shots.
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I think we take Ibaka for granted. I don’t think he gets the kind of love that he should. Whether it’s true or not, he had the narrative strapped to his back that the Thunder picked him over Harden, and with that came a great deal of criticism. Harden’s game was bigger, showier, and, frankly, better. And because Ibaka stayed and Harden was sent away, the focus of the analysis of Ibaka fell to a dissection of the faults in his game, rather than a celebration of the positives. He was 23 and people were talking about his skill set as if it was set in stone and not going to improve.
He’s in a conference with a whole handful of great forwards and, if he’s not getting selected as an All-Star this year, there’s a decent chance that he won’t ever be. Aldridge and Griffin and Love and Davis aren’t going anywhere. Dirk’s still around. Despite all of Ibaka’s improvements, with Westbrook and Durant around he’s always going to be a third option. A very good third option — either the best or the second best one in existence — but still, just a third option. After all the he-can’t-play-without-Westbrook-getting-him-shots negativity he had thrown his way after his subpar playoffs performance last year, he’s flipped that narrative on its head. He’s steady. He never takes nights off. He’s always playing hard, always protecting the rim. Always getting better.
He’s not an All-Star, but he’s played like one.