Top 50 NBA Players: #46 Serge Ibaka

Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka
Resume: 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks (1st in league), 31.1 minutes, 57% FG (4th in league), 35% 3PT, and 75% FT… Team record in games played: 58-22 (2-0 without)… Playoffs: 12.8 points (career best), 8.4 rebounds (career best), 3.0 blocks, 33.3 minutes, 44% FG, 44% 3PT, 79% FT, 5-6 record… 1st Team All-Defense

Let’s assume that for some odd reason you owned a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii, and then decided you wanted to buy an old school Sega Genesis just so you could play Sonic The Hedgehog and Shaq Fu every once in a while. I can’t say I’d blame you. If you own a PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, AND Sega Genesis, you’re in video game nerd heaven. But now let me present you with a hypothetical situation… would you trade away your Wii for a handheld Yahtzee, an extra PS3 controller and a random game from the Sega Dreamcast? Probably not, right? What if you could likely trade in the Sega Genesis and get the same haul? Still not a very enticing deal, but it makes a lot more sense to give up the Sega Genesis and those two games than the Wii and all the games you have for it, right? What if you were almost guaranteed to get a better offer for either system if you waited a year? Wouldn’t you wait on it? And finally, what if there was a chance you could keep all four? Sure it might be overkill, but why the hell not?

In case you haven’t caught on, this overcomplicated and extremely unnecessary analogy is a nod to the situation the Oklahoma City Thunder were in one calendar year ago. With Durant (PS3), Westbrook (Xbox 360), Harden (Wii) and Ibaka (Sega Genesis) all on the roster and not enough money to pay for all four long term, Sam Presti and the Thunder opted to panic trade Harden before the season, which they now have Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams to show for. Why would they do this? Well, besides the fact that it wasn’t likely they would be able to pay all four players as well as eleven other guys without going well over the cap, it seems as like Thunder management slightly overrated Ibaka.

May 15, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) makes a jump shot during game five against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 88-84. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t mistake this for me saying “Serge Ibaka is overrated.” He’s not. A 6’10 Congolese power forward with 20 foot range, a knack for devastatingly swatting shots, and the third banana on a 60 win team… not overrated. And keep in mind, he was far and away the  fourth best player on the team two years ago when Harden was in the picture. But as a third option he was more ordinary. Without a consistent post game, the offense could never run through Ibaka like it did with Harden. Rarely would Ibaka burst for 30 points or make the big shots late like Harden often would. You could argue that offensively Ibaka was the beneficiary of a whole lot of attention being paid to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. There is a reason why Ibaka shot a very impressive 52 percent from 10-19 feet… he was uncontested for a majority of those jumpers. Is it Ibaka’s fault that he wasn’t as good of a third option as James Harden? Not necessarily, but it has to be mentioned.

It also has to be mentioned that after Russell Westbrook was injured in Game 2 of the 1st round Ibaka’s shortcomings were put in the spotlight. In a time of need when the Thunder desperately needed production like they would’ve gotten from Harden, who was always more than capable of handling a larger burden than he was given in Oklahoma City, Ibaka showed that he is much more equipped to be a fourth option than a second option. The moment seemed too big for him. It was almost like he was in his own head. He missed a beyond wide open layup at the buzzer in Game 4 against Houston, a couple of open dunks in Oklahoma City’s 2nd round series against Memphis, and shot only 44 percent throughout the postseason, 13 percent lower than his regular season mark.

Overall, I moved Ibaka up four spots from last year. I appreciate the fact that during the regular season he proved to be capable of handling the role of third best player on a title team. If Patrick Beverly never ran down Russell Westbrook, maybe Ibaka is fifteen spots higher, owns a championship ring and is still holding down the top spot in the All-Time Serge Power Rankings ahead of Serge from Beverly Hills Cop. You just never know.