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NBA PM: Serge Ibaka Bounce Back Coming In 2016-17?

Serge Ibaka’s productivity has been declining. Was it due to the system in OKC and will he bounce back in Orlando?

Lang Greene

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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.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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