The Oklahoma City Thunder had a tough decision to make between re-signing Serge Ibaka or James Harden to a long-term contract. With cornerstone pieces Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook signed long-term, they decided to keep Ibaka over Harden. Harden has blossomed into a superstar and perhaps the best shooting guard in the NBA. He finished fifth in the NBA in scoring in 2012 and led the league in Free Throw Attempts for the surprise Houston Rockets.
Ibaka, on the other hand, is the prototypical role player. He is one of the best shot blockers in the league and a very good jump shooter for a power forward. He is off to the best start of his career in 2013 and is making a case to be an All-Star. He is averaging 14.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He is also shooting over 50 percent from the field and 87 percent from the free throw line.
He has had to play not only power forward this year but has been part of a lineup where he plays center and Durant plays power forward. With the NBA becoming less big-man oriented, the play of Ibaka has allowed the Thunder to go small ball and not get bullied on the boards.
Monday night will be the ultimate test because they are playing the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have an overabundance of big men with Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph. Even though Randolph and McGee may miss the game Monday night, the trio of Faried, Hickson and Mozgov combined for 28 rebounds in their last game with none of them playing more than 29 minutes.
For the Thunder to win on Monday night, Ibaka will not only have to score points but be a rim protector against these three bigs. Kendrick Perkins has not been able to give the Thunder much this season, and with their thin bench the onus will be on Ibaka to pick up the slack.