The pros and cons of starting Ibaka at center

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With Darnell Mayberry’s tweet and Chris Silva’s blog reporting that Serge Ibaka will start at center for the Thunder tonight, I couldn’t help but remember the plethora of conversations, discussions, debates, and name calling incidents that have centered around where Ibaka should play and if he’s a true 4, a tweener 4/5 or somewhere in between.

So, let’s have a look at the potential positives and negatives of starting Ibaka at center for the Thunder’s first preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats and beyond.

Pro: Serge will get to play with the starting unit. This is obviously a no-brainer for both sides of the “Serge is a PF/C” argument because both want to see him eventually emerge as a starter, so getting as much time as he could with the starting unit is a good thing considering the fact that he would have been coming off of the bench in any scenario not involving him starting at center.

Con: He won’t be playing at the position he’s most well suited for and spent the majority of last season at. While some would argue that any time on the floor is good time (and I typically support this idea), some other individuals would also claim that Serge seeing time at center will only highlight some of his deficiencies from last season, namely his poor boxing out and man-to-man iso defense against bigger opponents, unless he has significantly improved those already, and might cause him to play differently when he returns to PF when Krstic and Collison get healthy.Pro: Cole Aldrich can be brought along at a slower pace so that he can contribute more fully in the season when he’s ready, despite the injuries to both Thunder starters at center from last season.

Con: Why did the Thunder draft up for Aldrich, a defensive minded “center of the future,” if they’re not going to play him? And we’re not talking about a real game here, we’re talking about pre-season. Isn’t pre-season meant for stuff like this, especially for a guy who didn’t get any run in Summer League?

Pro: The Bobcats have DeSagana Diop, Nazr Mohammed and Kwame Brown as their centers. I’m quite positive Ibaka can show off some improvement against this triumvirate, especially since he will have a speed and athleticism advantage against any of the three.

Con: They are all bangers, which Ibaka is just not. He’s not a back to the basket guy so he could be in for a rough go of it on defense, especially since Diop has two inches and almost 50 lbs on Serge.

Pro: We get to see if Serge can co-exist with Jeff Green down low on the block.

Con: I’m pretty sure what the answer to the above scenario is…and it probably won’t be pretty.

Pro: The Thunder will have one of the fastest and most athletic starting units in the entire league, if not maybe the universe. This group should be able to run and do tons of damage in the open court against anyone.

Con: Who is going to score in the post with this group? And didn’t the Lakers show just how costly no low-post scoring/being forced to rebound with two undersized frontcourt players is?

Pro: Ibaka will probably get more minutes on the court in general now (not just with the starting unit). More playing time typically equals more improvement in a shorter time period for young players.

Con: Those are minutes at center, which means Aldrich and Mullens won’t see those minutes there and I’d say they need them just as much, if not much, much, MUCH more, than Ibaka does at that spot.

Pro: The Thunder should see one of the highest increases of blocked shots at the center position in the history of mankind from Krstic to Ibaka.

Con: The Thunder might also see one of the highest increases in fouls committed or fouled out games at the center position in the history of mankind.

Pro: Ibaka dunks.

Con: NOT APPLICABLE.

Pro: Aldrich/Mullens will not feel entitled to the starting spot and competition will still reign supreme for playing time/starting spots at each position.

Con: What about playing time competition at the PF spot now? And couldn’t Aldrich and Mullens both feel a little hopeless about their ability to find any time on the floor if they still didn’t get a start despite BOTH Thunder centers going down?

Pro: There will be an actual, tangible answer of if Serge Ibaka can play center at the NBA level and not be wasted there since he seems to be more suited for the PF spot.

Con: Some people aren’t going to like the answer, no matter what it is—especially if the Thunder traded up to get Aldrich for nothing—or if it’s plain as day that Ibaka should be the starting PF and unseat the incumbent favorite, sooner rather than later. See, that’s a no win situation for a lot of people.

Except me, since I get to be/have to be impartial with things like this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go scratch my head at Brooks’ decision (and yes, I read his reasons) to start Ibaka at center with the “future of the franchise” centers watching from the bench while desperately needing reps in a low pressure atmosphere (hey, kind of like pre-season!) if they ever want to become the future.

See, totally impartial.

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