As the regular seasons winds down, the Oklahoma City Thunder (48-17) is improving its play just in time to make a strong push into the playoffs. Most of the credit given for the Thunder’s success this year goes to the outstanding efforts of Kevin Durant and — when healthy — Russell Westbrook, but Serge Ibaka‘s input has been a very important aspect of the team’s production this season.
When the Thunder lost James Harden in a trade prior to the 2012-13 NBA season, it was clear that the team was in need of a third scoring option. The first player put in position to fill that role was Kevin Martin, but he could not do enough, which ultimately led to his departure after the season. Then, the Thunder figured that Jeremy Lamb would eventually be that player, but that also did not work out. Reggie Jackson provided a spark for the Thunder early in the season, but there was still something missing.
With Ibaka’s consistently solid play, the Thunder knows that it has found that third man. Ibaka’s play has vastly improved over a short period of time, but his role on the team often gets overshadowed by Durant’s statistical outbursts. Still, no one should take anything away from what Ibaka brings on a nightly basis. While shooting more than 54 percent from the field, Ibaka is averaging a career-high 15.2 points per game, while also grabbing a career-high 8.9 rebounds a night. He has been so good that it is hard to say which aspect of his game has improved the most. Still, it is clear that he has stepped it up in various areas.
The Thunder is deeper than it has ever been, and its entire roster brings a certain something to its game as a team. Other than Durant, Ibaka would clearly be the team’s MVP this season. March has been excellent for Ibaka, who is averaging 15 points, 10.5, rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. Amazingly, he has also shot 58.7 percent from the field over his last nine games, dating back to Feb. 23. If Ibaka can continue his solid play, and the Thunder continues to get consistent production from role players like Caron Butler, Derek Fisher and Jackson, then there’s no doubt that this team will be in the NBA Finals, competing to win their first championship.