A 2008 draftee, Serge Ibaka came into this year's Summer League circuit as one of the most intriguing players to watch. Blessed with awesome physical tools, including a lean frame, a big wingspan, and excellent end to end speed, Ibaka's audition for the Thunder can't be considered anything less than a major success considering the athleticism and potential he'll bring to their already impressive roster of young talent. Despite being very raw in terms of fundamental skills, the Congo native showed a lot of positive things for a player who won't turn 20 until September and didn't consistently see substantial playing time with Ricoh Manresa of the ACB last season. However, the disparity between his performance in Orlando and Las Vegas were a reminder of how much room he still has to improve.
Ibaka's best assets at this point are his speed and effort level. A long-strider with good quickness, Ibaka was the first player up the floor for the Thunder on certain possessions, running hard to the block and attempting to get position down low. Though he didn't get many touches in transition in Las Vegas, his willingness to get up the floor is one that should serve him well playing next to Russell Westbrook down the road, just like it did at times in Orlando. His speed also helped his team's half court offense, mostly on the pick and roll, where he was able to open up space for his teammates by sprinting up from the opposite block to set screens, giving his ball handler more space to attack rotating defenders by quickly establishing position. His feel for how to operate out on the court appears to have improved greatly over the last year, which is a testament to the work that his coaching staff in the ACB put in with him all season.
Ibaka's effort level manifested itself on the defensive end regularly as well. While he lacks great fundamentals and works himself out of position at times, Ibaka did some admirable work down low. Though he got beat off the dribble a number of times by the stocky DeJuan Blair and had some issues against bigger players like Roy Hibbert and longer players like Hasheem Thabeet, Ibaka's length allowed him to block some shots, including a memorable swat of a transition lay-up in Orlando.
Despite committing quite a few fouls in both Summer Leagues, Ibaka wasn't as foul prone as one might expect a 19-year old to be last season in Spain a promising sign for him moving forward. The keys to Ibaka's development as a defensive player are added experience and coaching, two things he'll get plenty of in Oklahoma City. He still needs to learn how to utilize his lateral quickness to his advantage and improve his rebounding ability, which will likely require him to add some weight.
Though Ibaka possesses an impressive build already, his ability to pack on pounds will be a point of interest moving forward. His frame seems like it could add quite a bit of weight, which will only augment the things he already does well and help him greatly down the road. The biggest issues Ibaka has had this summer became apparent in Las Vegas, where the likes of Hasheem Thabeet and Chinemelu Elonu made it tough for him to score around the rim. After having a very efficient series of games in Orlando, Ibaka looked out of control at times around the basket when forced to finish through defenders, often struggling to assert his physical presence at the basket.
Many of those issues stem from his lack of finishing ability with his left hand. Ibaka showed time and time again with Manresa that he is capable of doing some damage offensively with his right hand, displaying a developing running hook and a decent turnaround jumper. However, his lack of counter-moves hurt his ability to score in Las Vegas, as he didn't find much success going to work against defenders with superior defensive tools. These issues were compounded over the course of the week as he began to rush his shots, missing a lot of half-hooks and short-range looks that he converted in Orlando.
That urgency doesn't show in every part of Ibaka's game, as he does have some unique tools for a prospect with his size and experience. Though Ibaka no longer takes as many jumpers as he did during his days playing for CB L'Hospitalet, he still possesses nice form and solid range on his shot. A bit tentative at times to pull the trigger from the midrange, Ibaka is going to benefit immensely from the personal attention he's sure to receive from Oklahoma City's coaching staff. Improved confidence and footwork could turn him into a very capable shooter over time. Such development would be a welcome addition to his excellent timing on the offensive glass, where he was able to earn himself a few easy shot opportunities by following his teammates to the rim on the secondary break and generally showing a knack for moving to the right place at the right time when shots went up.
Considering that Ibaka is coming to a team that already has a ton of young players and ample cap space, he should be able to develop at his own pace. The Thunder organization will have no trouble finding him minutes, whether they come in Oklahoma City or with their Development League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. With a lot of margin for error, and some time to reach his physical potential and gain experience, Ibaka's performance in the Summer League was nothing more than a progress report on a player who is still only scratching the surface of his potential.