Feb 6, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Priority #4: Serge Ibaka
Pin-pointing Serge Ibaka’s value is difficult.
A year or two ago, he seemed like a clear max contract candidate when the salary jumped, but last season he regressed enough that he might be just below that threshold.
Two years ago he averaged 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. He shot 54% on his two pointers, 38% from deep, and 78% from the free throw line. He had a monster midrange game, and he was legitimately one of the best defenders in the entire league.
Last year his stats dipped to 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. His two point percentage dipped to 52%, his three-point percentage to 32% and his free throws to 75%.
There are two possibilities here:
- The Thunder became a slightly toxic environment last season. The addition of a new coach and the weight of crushing expectations simply led to an uncharacteristically disappointing year from Serge.
- Serge is legitimately declining at the age of 26 and will never get back to where he was 1-2 years ago.
- (Possibly both)
This season we will find out whether Serge simply had a down year on a contentious Thunder team, or whether his tank is running low on gas and he truly is declining.
If he does get back to where he was 1-2 years ago, him and AD would be a joy to watch together. They are both elite athletes who excel at sending their opponents shot attempts into the bleachers, and they can both space the floor and beat their man with stifling athleticism.
Ibaka and Davis would be a dangerous combo to try and run a pick and roll against, considering both could switch unto the ball handler seamlessly and their help defense rotations would shut down any clear paths to the rim.
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Serge is a poor post up player and passer, but he was once an elite midrange shooter who also hit 38% of his threes.
Jrue running a pick and roll with AD while Ibaka pulled his defender out to the three-point line would be a dangerous offensive weapon against slow-footed defenders trying to cover huge tracts of the court.
The Pelicans are an unattractive free agent destination now, but if they get back to where they were in 2015 and AD takes another step they will become a major player with the right candidates.
All the cap space in the world is great, but it won’t be worth a dime if the Pelicans miss the playoffs and end up back in the lottery…….