Season in Review: #9 Serge Ibaka
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer
His work ethic is unparalleled. The time he spends in the gym is nearly unfathomable to most, but Serge Ibaka always finds a way to get better.
Each summer during his career, Ibaka has managed to make gradual improvements to become a more effective player on both ends of the floor. This past year, Ibaka managed to set career-highs by averaging 32.9 minutes, 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game while also blocking the most total shots in the NBA this season. In addition, Ibaka also shot his highest career percentages from the three-point line and free throw line.
In particular, however, the most notable aspects of the game where Ibaka developed was in his feel and comfort with the ball in his hands for longer periods on the offensive end and his positioning on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, the area Ibaka is most proud of his improvement in being able to distribute the ball to others within the flow of the offense.
“There are a lot of things on defense and offense,” Ibaka said. “I was really passing the ball better this year.”
Regardless of what he does on the offensive end, Ibaka’s true calling is as a defender, where is reach, athleticism and instincts cause havoc for opposing team’s defenses. Never was it clearer than his return to the lineup in the Western Conference Finals, where his presence in the lane became an immediate deterrent to the San Antonio Spurs.
Depending on the status of his injured calf, which he played through over the final four games of the Western Conference Finals, Ibaka may be joining the Spanish National Team in the World Championships in Madrid this summer. Regardless, he plans to add more wrinkles to his ever-expanding game, but wouldn’t divulge the details quite yet.
“It’s a secret,” Ibaka said. “You’ll see next season.”
Ibaka’s physical sacrifice to play through the pain of his calf strain did not go unnoticed, nor did his stellar play throughout the season. It is the type of attitude Ibaka displayed to help his team even at his own discomfort that will be necessary for the entire Thunder squad to adopt heading into the 2014-15 campaign. If the Thunder can play well-balanced, free flowing basketball with all five men committed on defense, it will feel great about its chances next year.
“Every year we try to make some big steps and get better and better with everything,” Ibaka said. “I’m sure we’ll learn from that this year, especially in the postseason. I hope everybody next year will come back with a different mindset, like Perkins said a sacrificing mindset and play more team basketball.”