Serge Ibaka Criticizes LeBron James' Defense and Misses the Bigger Picture

Argun UlgenAnalyst IJune 18, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 14:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder battle for position in the second quarter in Game Two of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 14, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Those young people can sure say some curious things.

Twenty-two-year-old Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder made a very green (with envy) comment about the Miami Heat's LeBron James. Via Sporting News: "'LeBron is not a good defender,' Ibaka told reporters. 'He can play defense for two or three minutes, but not 48 minutes.'"

James was the leading vote-getter on the 2012 NBA All-Defensive Team. He ranked first in the league in defensive win shares and eighth in defensive rating. In terms of transition defense, James is probably the best player in the league. He is routinely assigned to defend the best opposing player on a nightly basis. 

It is true that James' defensive assignment in Games 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant, has dropped 32 and 25 points on James, respectively. However, those gaudy statistics are more of a testament to Durant's unstoppable scoring ability than to James' defensive shortcomings.

There is, however, a very quiet and effective way that James has been playing defense on Durant: James baited the regular season scoring leader into foul trouble. In each of the last two games, Durant has fouled five times; James is responsible for six of those fouls. 

The Heat's strategy has limited Durant's minutes to about 39 a game. Meanwhile, James, unfettered thus far by foul trouble, has played on average 43 minutes a game. In a tightly-knit series, James staying on the floor for four minutes longer than Durant has been the subtle difference-maker thus far.

With 12 attempts from the charity stripe in Game 3, what Ibaka should also realize is that James was successful in slowing the game down. While OKC thrives on a fast, frenetic pace, Miami is in their comfort zone when playing a grinding half-court game. 

Are these not defensive strategies?

What the veteran Miami Heat squad, led by James, has come to understand is that there are other ways to defend against a top-flight scorer other than individual stops. What veteran basketball players learn—and perhaps what the hyper-talented yet young Oklahoma City Thunder have not—is that basketball has many layers beneath the simple play by play.