This year the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-8) are currently only 2.5 games off of first place in the Northwest Division. Credit has gone to Russell Westbrook this year for fueling OKC and deservedly so, but we also need to highlight the contributions provided from second year player Serge Ibaka.
Drafted 24th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, after a strong performance at the 2008 Reebok Eurocamp in which he was named MVP, Ibaka has emerged as one of the best role players in the NBA this season.
He doesn't quite get the distinction of being a six man because he has started 11 games already this season due to injuries and match up decisions. He has good mechanics on his jumper and has solidly adapted to the league. Ibaka's 11.5 rebounding rate (per 48 minutes) ranks higher than David West, LeBron and Brook Lopez, and he's the only player in the NBA to rank in the top 40 in rebounds, top 10 in blocks and field goal shooting and shoot over 80 percent from the line—he's 8th in field goal shooting and 6th in blocks.
Those stats are incredible considering the fact he's only averaging 27 minutes on the season.
Now, if you adjusted those rates to 48 minutes, he would be averaging a little over 20 points, 13 boards and 3 blocks a game, good enough to put him in the West's elite crop of power forwards.
Ibaka does a good job of hustling around the basket and keeping happy feet; meaning he stays on his toes in anticipation of an offensive rebound. That tactic helps him excel at second-jumping and out leaping his opponents. He crashes the boards with ease and his hustle on both ends of the floor is undeniable.
Furthermore, I believe he can turn into one of the West's premier pick and roll players due to the fact that he already excels at diving to the rim and is immensely athletic. He can finish with either hand and is an adequate passer finding teammates who cut along the baseline.
Think a poor man's Amare Stoudemire.
The only difference is Ibaka is committed on the defensive end.
Thanks to his long arms and uncanny timing, he waits until the last possible second to contest shots, which is an asset to his team. Because of his good judgment, it allows Ibaka to stay on his feet a second longer; aiding his teammates with help around on the basket or out on the perimeter defending against competent scorers.
After all he did lead all rookies in shot-blocking a year ago.
Better yet, he's only 21 years old giving him plenty of room to learn the nuances of the game, giving further evidence of his immense potential. With an enriched post-game, Ibaka could be another lethal weapon in the Thunder's arsenal.