Serge Ibaka is in a shooting slump and Kevin Durant knows why.
Since missing a game-tying tip-in against the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the first round, Ibaka is shooting 23-of-66 from the floor (34.8 percent). Most recently, in the Oklahoma City Thunder's Game 3 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he went 6-of-17 from the field (35.2 percent).
Since Serge Ibaka missed tip-in during Game 4 of Round 1, he's shot 23-of-66 (34.8 %) fo 53 points. That's no good. #ThundervGrizzlies— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) May 13, 2013
Ibaka connected on 57.3 percent of his field-goal attempts during the regular season and is a 55.2 percent shooter for his career, so his recent stretch of inefficiency is concerning.
But it's not vexing. Durant understands why Ibaka continues to carom shots off the rim.
"It's all in his mind," Durant explained (via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com). "If he thinks he's going to make those shots, he's going to make them."
His prognosis appears to be spot on.
Durant added that he and the rest of the Thunder have to help instill confidence in Ibaka moving forward, something the forward himself admitted he was lacking—and they need to do it soon.
Oklahoma City finds itself in a 2-1 hole against a Memphis team it struggled against during the regular season. The Thunder went just 1-2 when facing the Grizzlies this year with Russell Westbrook and are now attempting to overthrow them without him.
To do that, Durant and company need Ibaka to play defense but also to knock down his shots. He had a career year in terms of efficiency. The potential for him to be an offensive force is there. Right now, however, he's become something of a liability.
His 42.9 percent conversion rate is nearly 15 percentage points lower than his regular-season clip (57.3). Ibaka's current shooting rut is also the worst of his career.
The 23-year-old has shot below 42 percent from the field in four consecutive games. Previously, he had never gone more than three straight games (playoffs included) without knocking down at least 42 percent of his shot attempts, making this bout with inefficiency the longest of his career.
Will the Thunder advance past the Grizzlies if Serge Ibaka doesn't improve on offense?
If the Thunder wish to erase their current series deficit and advance past the Grizzlies, they cannot expect Durant to do it on his own. They need a more offensively economical contribution from their supporting cast, specifically Ibaka.
Although plenty of others need to step up—Kevin Martin is shooting just 38.1 percent in the Grizzlies series—Oklahoma City's main concern is Ibaka. Sans Westbrook, he's the Thunder's second best player, and a 30.8 percent clip for the series just isn't going to cut it.
"We have to get him confidence," Durant said of Ibaka. "We have to get him some shots and get him going."
Ibaka has to make those shots. Otherwise, it's the Thunder who will have to get going—toward the exit.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.