May 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw (33) shoots past Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the second half in game two of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Serge Ibaka reached an agreement to a four-year, $48 million extension according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
It’s a deal that will likely end up as an immense coup considering the contracts handed out to DeAndre Jordan and Javale McGee the past two years.
Ibaka is an elite shot blocker, as Jordan and McGee have also exhibited, except that he is much more competent offensively — his 46% mark from 16-23 feet is among the top five power forwards who logged 20+ minutes a game last year. His impact isn’t limited to shot blocking, though, as he consistently provides pinpoint help defense to stymie the point of attack.
But what does Ibaka’s extension mean for the Spurs?
It means a whole lot, actually — Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker won’t have a reprieve once they blow by their initial defenders. Ibaka’s presence, counterintuitively, didn’t have a lasting effect on their three regular season meetings. The Spurs scored at elite rates of efficiency regardless. Defensively, San Antonio was less effective when Ibaka was off the floor — an interesting development because he’s the Thunder’s ideal big man as he plays well on both sides of the ball. The Spurs allowed 111.9 points per 100 possessions without him on the floor, nonetheless.
The script flipped in the playoffs. San Antonio’s previously brilliant offense was halted to a mundane league average rate of efficiency. They were 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse while Ibaka was on the floor even though the Spurs didn’t have trouble crashing the offensive glass, grabbing 26.9% of offensive rebounds, and preventing turnovers.
The difference, quite simply, can be attributed to Ibaka seamlessly closing driving angles because his athleticism allowed the Thunder to either switch the pick-and-roll or hedge hard without compromising defensively. He was, and remains, one of the most important defensive players in the league. That doesn’t mean he’s the best defender but he doesn’t have to be amazing to make a tangible difference.
Ibaka is the solution for San Antonio’s attack because Kendrick Perkins’ vaunted post defense takes a backseat against a free-flowing Spurs offense and, for some odd reason, Scott Brooks hates Nick Collison.
Ignoring the fiscal ramifications, which will inevitably lead to Oklahoma City’s decision on James Harden, re-signing a unique asset at fair market value is always nice. Their ingenuity will be rewarded if they can coax Harden into the fold and prevent as much luxury tax payments as possible. Given Ibaka’s age, it’s also reasonable to expect other improvements, perhaps if he hones his athleticism and becomes more reliable in the post.
Ibaka has already proven to be an instrumental focal point against any elite offense. Miami is a rare exception; they are perfectly constructed to combat Ibaka. That doesn’t make it any easier for San Antonio, though, who will have to deal with a burgeoning defensive beast for at least the next half decade — without that LeBron James guy.