serge ibaka may 2014

As we all know, the Oklahoma City Thunder were set to take on the magnificent motion-oriented offense of the San Antonio Spurs without their best defender/rim protector in Serge Ibaka, who was expected to miss the remainder of the postseason due to a lower calf injury in a best-of-seven series in the Western Conference Finals.

To show how much of a difference Ibaka's absence was from the first two games of this series compared to the regular season, OKC allowed on average 60 points per game in the paint to the Spurs in the first two games of this series (66 in Game 1 and 54 in Game 2), compared to only allowing 41.5 points in the paint on average to the Spurs in their four regular season meetings.

Not to mention that in the four regular season meetings, San Antonio averaged 93 points per 100 possessions when Ibaka was in the game, compared to a staggering 120.8 points per 100 possessions with a 51 field goal percentage when Ibaka was on the bench. That's a 27.8 point difference per 100 possessions with Ibaka on and off of the bench!

This became evident in Games 1 and 2 when San Antonio's offense would light up OKC for 122 and 112 points, respectively. Ibaka's absence had become more of a factor than many had expected. Not only was Ibaka's presence missed on the defensive end, but Ibaka is also one of OKC's best bigs when it came to setting screens and scoring off of them whether it was via short roll or a pick and pop.

This would eventually bring up inquiries over whether OKC was a good screening team outside of Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. To make matters worse, Oklahoma City was a horrible team this year at defending pick and rolls.

San Antonio averaged 0.9 points per possession involving a pick and roll in the regular season, 0.94 points per possession involving a pick and roll in the playoffs, but an incredible 1.09 points per possession involving a pick and roll in Games 1 and 2 on average vs OKC in this series.

The thing that makes Ibaka such a good pick and roll defender is that he reads angles well, has quick feet and can close out well on a shot. These are all abilities that seem to be lacking in Steven Adams' game, who saw an increase in minutes due to Ibaka's absence. Not only is Adams slow on his feet (somewhere close to Luis Scola slow), but he gets caught up too often when looking for a switch coming off of a pick and roll.

With this in mind, Parker and Ginobili easily took advantage by beating him to the basket for easy layups which would not have been the same case if it was Ibaka in Adams' place, in which became evident in Game 3 when San Antonio only scored 40 points in the paint and 97 total.

With these numbers indicating how big of a presence Ibaka is to OKC on both sides of the ball, you start to realize how relevant (as well as valuable and important) two-way front court players still are in today's game.  Without Ibaka, Oklahoma City looked merely close to a team that would not survive a best-of-seven series with any of the other seven teams in the playoffs for the Western Conference this season.

Overall, whether you are intrigued by the numbers or not, you can not deny how much of a better team the Thunder are when Ibaka is active in the lineup.


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