The NBA is absolutely overflowing with talent at the top level. The easiest way to fact check this notion, year after year, is to take a stroll down the list of talented guys in the league who, despite strong productivity, have never made it to the All-Star game.
Guys like Josh Smith, Rudy Gay, Monta Ellis, Mike Conley, Gordon Hayward, Al Jefferson, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka immediately come to mind. All of these players at varying points in their respective careers had a case to be made to play among the league’s elite.
In regards to Ibaka, flashback to the end of the 2013-14 campaign and it would be hard to envision a scenario where an All-Star berth wouldn’t be in the near future for the talented forward. Ibaka was coming off a campaign in which he averaged 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game on 54 percent shooting.
But in the two seasons since, Ibaka has mostly faded from mainstream attention and the Oklahoma City Thunder shipped the veteran to the Orlando Magic earlier this summer in exchange for Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Ibaka gets a fresh start in Orlando as his own unrestricted free agency looms next summer, and it’s clear the Magic have reopened their wallet in order to win quickly. This summer, the Magic handed out a total of $197 million in guaranteed money in free agency to Evan Fournier, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Green and Bismack Biyombo. And this doesn’t include Orlando absorbing Ibaka’s $12 million salary for the 2016-17 campaign.
The message is simple. Orlando wants to get back into the playoff hunt sooner rather than later and for that to happen, Ibaka will need to put together a strong bounce back campaign.
But is it possible? Well, from an enthusiasm standpoint, Ibaka is taking the move to another zip code in perfect stride.
“It feels great, man. In my mind, this almost feels like my first rookie year,” Ibaka reportedly told Complex Sports. “I’m fresh and sometimes change is just good for you. I’m excited, been working out really hard for the upcoming season. We have a young team with a bright future and I want to bring what I learned the seven years in Oklahoma City and make the team better. I’m very excited. I know it’s going to be very fun being with those guys.”
However, the numbers on the floor seemingly speak of a trend headed in the other direction completely – a direction of noticeable decline.
Points Per Game
Ibaka’s point production has declined the past two seasons … Per 36 averages in parentheses for additional perspective
2013-14: 15.1 (16.6)
2014-15: 14.3 (15.6)
2015-16: 12.6 (14.2)
Rebounds Per Game
Ibaka’s rebound production has declined the past two seasons … Per 36 averages in parentheses for additional perspective
2013-14: 8.8 (9.6)
2014-15: 7.8 (8.5)
2015-16: 6.8 (7.7)
Blocks Per Game
Ibaka was once known as one of the fiercest weak-side rim protectors in the game and while the production is still there, there has been a noticeable decline since the 2011-12 campaign … Per 36 averages in parentheses for additional perspective
2011-12: 3.7 (4.8)
2012-13: 3.0 (3.5)
2013-14: 2.7 (3.0)
2014-15: 2.4 (2.6)
2015-16: 1.9 (2.1)
Field Goal Percentage
Ibaka’s field goal percentage has dipped from close to 60 percent in 2013 to under 50 percent the past two seasons. To be fair, Ibaka attempted just 63 total three-point attempts his first four seasons in the league. Over the past three seasons, Ibaka has hoisted 449 three-point attempts.
2012-13: 57.3 percent
2013-14: 53.6 percent
2014-15: 47.6 percent
2015-16: 47.9 percent
Ibaka, 26, is young enough to bounce back and most of the production declines, namely rebounding and blocked shots, can be attributed to him floating away from the basket more and more in order to establish the perimeter game. Playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two elite slashers, created plenty of open perimeter shots in Oklahoma City’s offense and the Thunder developed Ibaka into a similar role as the Miami HEAT did with Chris Bosh (during the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade years).
Further evidence of this, from a rebounding perspective, can be seen in Ibaka’s steady defensive rebounding percentages over the past four seasons.
Defensive Rebounding Percentage
(estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds Ibaka grabbed while on the court)
2012-13: 17.0 percent
2013-14: 19.6 percent
2014-15: 18.1 percent
2015-16: 16.2 percent
Now compare this to the steep decline in Offensive Rebounding Percentage during the same time period. The increase in Ibaka’s presence on the perimeter undoubtedly led to missed opportunities for offensive rebounds.
Offensive Rebounding Percentage
(estimate of the percentage of available offensive rebounds Ibaka grabbed while on the court)
2012-13: 11.1 percent
2013-14: 10.0 percent
2014-15: 7.0 percent
2015-16: 6.5 percent
Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, Ibaka is one of the most intriguing players in the league. Did he grow stagnant in Oklahoma City’s system and become a victim of a role change? Or is his decline an indication of things to come as he approaches free agency and a potentially very lucrative payday next summer?
Orlando is hoping a change of scenery does the magic trick.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN