Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
The Oklahoma City Thunder have found a way to keep up their winning ways. One big reason? Serge Ibaka, who Eddie Maisonet believes is playing at an all-star level.
Watching Serge Ibaka play basketball is like watching an eager young kid playing with the older kids on the court. The young fella knows he can compete with the big boys, and every opportunity he gets he's going to show everyone that he can do it. The older kids, they don't take the young fella seriously, and when he gets the ball out on the wing, they let him shoot that open jumper.
Then the young fella makes one.
Then the young fella makes another one.
Damn, can't let the young fella keep making all these jumpers, let me get out there and contest his shot.
Pump fake. One dribble. Swinging on the rim after a monster dunk.
Most young fellas are not Air Congo, a.k.a. Serge Ibaka, but watching Ibaka play with the amount of confidence he's shown thus far in the 2012-13 season has been amazing. With James Harden now residing in H-Town, some of the scoring burden has fallen on Ibaka's shoulders, and No. 9 has been a willing shooter in the process. The true test for Ibaka will be if he can sustain his current output, and if he does, I believe he should make the 2012-13 West roster. That's what almost 15 points, 8 rebounds and over 3 blocks a game will do for a gullible Thunder fan. Here are a couple of reasons why I'm so damned gullible.
1. Kevin Durant, I Laugh At Your Shooting Percentages: Listen to these shooting percentages. 59.5% FG and 87.0% FT. Those aren't KD's numbers, those are Ibaka's. Moreover, that near sixty percent shooting percentage aren't all coming from layups and dunks either, plenty of those are 16-18 foot jumpers. What's been remarkable is that Ibaka's shooting them with no hesitation and both Durant and Russell Westbrook are willingly (and excitedly) looking to get him the ball. Maybe that time hanging out with Pau and Marc Gasol during the Olympics did plenty of good.
2. Serge Ibaka's Improving As A Defender: Yes, the person who arguably should've won the defensive player of the year last season has shown improvement in his strong suit. The blocks are still as high as we expect them to be (3.3/game) but what's more noticeable is what isn't on the stat sheet. Ibaka's been more focused as an on the ball defender, he's not loafing on his ball rotations, and he's become more efficient in his ball swatting attempts. Is he elite in those things I just mentioned? Lord no, otherwise he'd be the greatest defender of all-time. But, he's improved, and the Thunder are outscoring their opponents by 10+ points game in the process.
3. Who Else Is Going To Make The All-Star Squad As A "Forward" In The West: I think its fair to say that the starting West frontcourt is probably locked up with Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard representing for the bigs. After that? I think its a crapshoot. Lets just look at last year's frontcourt players:
- Andrew Bynum: Still suffering from bowling injuries. He's also in the wrong conference.
- Dirk Nowitzki: Still injured.
- Marc Gasol: Similar numbers (16 points/7 rebounds) but I think this is the year Zach Randolph (18 points/13 rebounds) is a better choice versus the Spanish center.
- LaMarcus Aldridge: Averaging 21 points and 8 rebounds, but last time I checked the Blazers have the 4th-worst record in the West. Coaches usually don't vote for players on bum teams and I think Aldridge could be on the outside looking in when its all said and done.
- Kevin Love: He's a lock.
Here are a few other possible candidates that could make the team:
- Tim Duncan: What would feel like a lifetime-achievement award wouldn't be for TD, he's very deserving of an all-star selection.
- Rudy Gay: The Memphis Grizzlies are lacking a statistical Alpha dog but Rudy Gay is still 4th among all Western forwards in scoring (18.6) this season. He's iffy, but since the Grizz are the best team in the league, I could see Gay making it.
- Al Jefferson: Needs for Utah to keep winning and needs to defend better, but with averages of 17 points and 10 rebounds this season, this will be another season of Jefferson on the fringe of an all-star birth.
Ibaka's got a great shot because he's on an elite team, he's a better defender than every potential selection outside of Marc Gasol, and would make a phenomenal all-star lineup addition with point guards like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Westbrook throwing countless alley-oops to Air Congo.
What could be cool is this. I'm about 85% convinced that James Harden will be an all-star this season, and it would be crazy to see Ibaka become the third Thunder player in an All-Star Game while Harden finally makes one on another team.
Maybe Scott Brooks throws the four of them out there together in a lineup. Hell, let Kobe Bryant play in the lineup with the four of them in the game. Then, never pass him the ball.
Oh...the Thunder play the Lakers on Friday night, that should be fun too. Lets hope the coaches do the right thing and get Ibaka in the midseason classic, because Ibaka dunking alley-oops are fun and Ibaka's improvement during the first quarter of the season has the Thunder exactly where they want to be.