Dominance has been the theme of the past two seasons for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last season they entered the NBA Playoffs as the second seed in the Western Conference and will enter this year’s playoffs as the top seed in the West. With a combination of their high-powered offense and surprisingly good defense, the Thunder have been a force to be reckoned with.
It doesn’t take much to figure out that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been at the forefront of the Thunder’s success this season. Durant has averaged 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 51 percent shooting and 41.6 percent three-point shooting. Westbrook has averaged 23.2 points, 7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game on 43.8 percent shooting. They have both been fantastic.
Westbrook and Durant will obviously need to continue their high level of play in the playoffs, but the key in their first round series against the Houston Rockets actually isn’t one of Oklahoma City’s two stars. In fact, Serge Ibaka may be the most vital piece for the Thunder as they face off with the Rockets, particularly offensively.
Ibaka is obviously an elite defender, leading the NBA in blocks, averaging three per game and also adding 7.7 rebounds per game. He has also shown a ton of offensive improvement this season, though, developing a quality jump shot and showing more aggressiveness overall. He has averaged a career-high 13.2 points per game on career-high 57.3 percent from the field, as well as hitting 20 of 57 three point attempts.
The reason Ibaka will be so vital in this series is because he will have a serious matchup advantage at the power forward position. The Rockets will likely start rookie Terrence Jones at the power forward position. Though Jones has played decently, Ibaka has a size, strength and skill advantage over the rookie. It’s a matchup that OKC could definitely exploit.
Oklahoma City, in all honesty, could probably win the series if Ibaka didn’t put up a big performance against the Rockets. However, if they are able to take advantage of his serious advantage in the post against Jones, it will make the Thunder’s path to the second round much easier than it would otherwise be.