While the Oklahoma City Thunder are losing a little more than they were at the start of the season, one player on the team is playing the best basketball of his career. Serge Ibaka is turning into a star before our very eyes and is suddenly more than just a block machine in the Thunder lineup.
Through the last couple of years, Ibaka was someone that could be counted on to deliver bone crushing blocks. He led the NBA in blocks in 2010-11 and then did the same for the Spain National Team as they roared to victory in the EuroBasket Tournament to earn a spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
That has not changed. He is leading the NBA this season with 3.1 blocks a game, sitting at 89 total blocks, seven more than JaVale McGee, while playing one less game.
However, it is more than just blocks now with Ibaka. Over the last seven games, Ibaka has three double-doubles and none have to do with blocks. Ibaka is averaging 10.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game over the past seven contests. Add to that, an impressive four blocks a game and only five total turnovers in that time, and Ibaka is doing everything he can to help the Thunder.
On the season, Ibaka is averaging 8.0 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
While Kendrick Perkins numbers are not as good, both Ibaka and head coach Scott Brooks said that Perkins is directly responsible for Ibaka's increased numbers. Through the first 17 games of the season, both players recorded at least one block in a game, something no other NBA team accomplished. Interestingly, it was Ibaka who was shut out to end the streak.
Perkins is only averaging 4.5 points and 5.7 rebounds a game on the season as well as one block a contest. However, Perkins is about a lot more than the box score. Perkins is the dominating man in the paint that scares away most other players. He is also one of the players who opens up Ibaka's looks, both offensively and defensively. If Perkins were not so dominating, I don't think people would challenge Ibaka as much as they do.
There are not many defensive tandems in the NBA better than Perkins and Ibaka. What is scary, is that Ibaka is only getting started.
Author Shawn S. Lealos has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma (2000) and is an avid sports fan that has lived in Oklahoma for over 40 years. He used to religiously follow the Dallas Mavericks until Oklahoma City found a team to call their own.