Serge Ibaka has been one of the most improved players in the NBA over the last few seasons, as he has gone from a raw, athletic shot-blocker who played poor man defense to a legitimate All-Star power forward. He is the NBA's best shot-blocker, a good defender and one of the best mid-range shooting forwards in the league.
However, I believe that he still has a lot more development to go, and when he finally maxes out his potential in a few years he will be a better player than Russell Westbrook and every player on the Thunder's roster not named Kevin Durant.
I will outline the reasons I believe Ibaka will become an elite player in the next few years on the following slides.
The primary reason for my prediction is the incredible work ethic that Ibaka possesses. The single common denominator between every superstar in the history of any sport is a driven desire to be the best, made apparent by a work ethic that often defies belief.
All the greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Hakeem Olajuwan had it, just as the modern superstars like Kevin Durant and LeBron James do. This work ethic is imperative for a player, even one with rare athletic gifts, to dominate as a pro, and leads to players staying in the gym for hours working on their jump shot, handle or post moves.
It is mentioned whenever he nails a jump shot that Serge Ibaka is one of the hardest workers in the NBA, which is what has allowed him to develop from an athlete almost no developed basketball skills just six years ago to a legitimate NBA scorer with an excellent mid-range game.
This work ethic that has been on display so far in his career is what suggests further development in his game. Ibaka could still become much better as a low-post scorer and defender, and he has shown the ability to develop a three-point shot. If he develops these things, which he should be able to if he continues to work hard at his game, he could very easily be the best power forward in the NBA in a few years, and a true superstar.
Serge Ibaka is already the best shot-blocker in the NBA, and that is a skill that seems unlikely to disappear given his athleticism and timing. Athleticism makes everything easier in the NBA, and since Ibaka has it in spades, all he needs is to nail down the basketball basics and he will be unstoppable.
Ibaka is one of the most agile bigs in the NBA, and is also a long-armed, explosive leaper. This gives him the ideal tools to be a a great shot-blocker, especially when combined with his incredible timing and his ability to jump quickly after landing.
More importantly, these seem unlikely to diminish for a long time, which should allow him to remain an elite shot-blocker. Therefore, he will retain great value for the Thunder, and if any other parts of his offensive game develop much then he will be a rare two-way threat big man. In the modern NBA, which focuses on three-point shooting, centers and power forwards often have limited offensive value as they focus on defense, so having a big man who can contribute offensively is a huge advantage. If Ibaka can ever offer that, he will immediately become one of the best power forwards in the league.
Ibaka has become a good mid-range shooter, and appears to be developing a three-point shot to boot. The ability to nail mid-range jumpers has been a staple in the All-Star games of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, as it allows them to be a force in the pick-and-pop game and take advantage of defenders playing off them on account of their athleticism.
Also, while Ibaka has not thus far been a consistent three-point shooter, his range and form on the shot indicates that he could be a legitimate three-point shooter in a few years. In 2012 Ibaka has already become one of the most efficient long-two shooters in the NBA, and with more years of development he should become one of the best shooting power forwards around.
This leads to the reason why his ability to hit long jump shots would make him such a valuable asset, and a true top 10-15 superstar. There are very few, if any, front court players who can both shoot from mid or long range with consistency and block shots and defend with the best of them. Even without developing the ability to play with his back to the basket, his multi-dimensional skill set of rim-protecting defense and mid-range shooting would make him unique in the NBA.
This would make him very valuable to the Thunder, and, if only slightly, more valuable than Russell Westbrook.