The Oklahoma City Thunder have played only four games thus far in the 2013-14 NBA season, but they have looked every bit like a team that should be in the mix at the top of the Western Conference this season, right where many people projected them to be. Now with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, they are even more dangerous.
Obviously one of the biggest beneficiaries of Westbrook’s return is Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. With Westbrook back on the floor, there is less pressure on Durant to essentially do everything on both ends of the floor, which should allow him to further succeed. However, Durant might not benefit from the point guard’s return quite as much as forward Serge Ibaka.
In the two games that Oklahoma City played without Westbrook this season, Ibaka submitted a couple of pretty abysmal performances. He combined for just 17 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks while shooting a paltry 7-28 from the floor. When Westbrook returned this past Sunday, it was clear they were trying to get back into the flow of playing together once again. As the Thunder defeated the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, though, it showed how much having Westbrook back aids Ibaka’s cause.
In 36 minutes on the floor, Ibaka finished the night with 17 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, three blocks and one steal while shooting 8-10 from the floor and converting on his only three-point attempt of the night.
Ibaka, though a fantastic physical specimen and still improving players, isn’t a guy that really creates his own offensive opportunities that well. He’s much more effective when he’s being hit with passes off of backdoor cuts or in the short-corner for a mid-range jumper. Without Westbrook, though, those shots weren’t there as often as defenses didn’t have to collapse as often. With him back and looking healthy, though, Ibaka is going to see those opportunities. It’s been a slow start for the young forward, but Westbrook’s return should help him pick it up.