Hakeem Olajuwon would be the perfect tutor for Ibaka for various reasons. Olajuwon has shown he is willing to reach out to current NBA players like LeBron James and Dwight Howard, so if Ibaka can manage to spend some time with one of the NBA’s greatest centers of all time, he would be wise to take full advantage of it.
And Olajuwon has already contacted OKC coach Scott Brooks about Ibaka.
Here are five skills that Serge Ibaka could learn from Hakeem Olajuwon to make a push at becoming an elite center/power forward.
The consensus last year was that the Oklahoma City Thunder really needed an offensive post presence.
Although it was masked by two of the NBA’s most prolific scorers (three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook), Ibaka and Perkins did not provide nearly enough lift offensively.
Most often, Scott Brooks would have to choose one or the other to play center and have Kevin Durant play power forward because having two players who cannot score the basketball on the court at the same time is a huge liability.
Not only that, but it allows an extra man to guard Durant or Westbrook whether they sag off Ibaka or Perkins or simply double a scorer.
Olajuwon is known as one of the best offensive big men of all time. In fact, Pete Newell of NBA.com said Olajuwon has “the best footwork [he’s] ever seen from a big man."
You don’t get much higher praise than that.
So, if Ibaka could figure out something even remotely similar to the Dream Shake (video above), he could become more of a weapon and less of a liability for the Thunder.
Over his career, Ibaka averages less than seven rebounds per game.
That needs to change—especially if he is going to be a primary big man.
While there is truth to the statement that defensive presence is more than just statistics, rebounds do have quantitative value, namely preventing offensive rebounds and allowing your team to get transition opportunities.
Hakeem Olajuwon averaged over 11 rebounds per game for his career. He could likely briefly watch some tape of Ibaka and suggest the best way for Ibaka to improve his rebounding.
It may be something as simple as effort and boxing out, or it may be more intricate—perhaps transitioning better from being a shot-blocker to a rebounder. Either way, this would be something that would significantly improve Ibaka’s overall game.
Although Ibaka is already approaching the league’s elite big men, his offensive game isn’t quite there.
Perhaps more importantly, his mindset and outward appearance isn’t there yet.
Too often we see Ibaka running up and down the court looking too much like a nice guy. The center position isn’t meant to be friendly—people don’t call it “battling” for rebounds for nothing.
Hakeem’s sustained success in the NBA can always come back to his mental composure and appearance. Just look at some of the league’s best centers in recent memory, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. Something in their swagger is intimidating.
Breaking backboards does tend to intimidate.
To be fair, Serge Ibaka is already one of the league’s best shot-blockers.
In fact, his league-leading 241 blocks was over 100 more than the second-place finisher.
But just imagine where Ibaka could be if he got some tips from the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks. And going back two slides, if Ibaka can learn how to rebound and block shots effectively, he will be right up there with Dwight Howard as the league’s best defensive presence.
All of the aforementioned skills are useless if Ibaka cannot coexist with Durant and Westbrook.
That’s not to say that he hasn’t coexisted so far, just that Westbrook likes to handle the ball a lot and shoot early in the shot clock while Durant is capable of taking over games with the ball in his hands.
Hakeem knows what that’s like, having played with one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, Clyde Drexler.
Preparing Ibaka to game-plan with Durant and Westbrook and prepare to create opportunities for himself is critical in order to remain on the floor and in an Oklahoma City uniform.
He already has a decent jump shot—if he can become more of an offensive threat he will make his way closer to the top of the NBA’s best big men.
View more basketball writing by featured columnist Elijah Abramson at Bases and Baskets.com!