Being drafted 24th overall in the 2008 draft, expectations for Ibaka weren't too high. All people really knew was that Ibaka was 6 feet 10 inches with raw athletic ability and an impressive vertical leap. Fans didn't really know what to expect from the Congo native.
In his first three years in the league, Ibaka was just an average role player. He did his job and stepped up to make plays when needed. From 2009-2013, he averaged 9.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game.
This year, however, we are seeing a new and improved Serge Ibaka -- the one Thunder fans have been waiting for.
It's only been 10 games, but it's really hard to sit here and tell you that Ibaka is the same type of player he was in previous years. This season, the fourth-year player is averaging 14 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game.
Matter of fact, in the last six games, Ibaka has produced four double-doubles. He had a career night last week with 27 points and 13 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors, who have, with Andrew Bogut and David Lee, one of the best frontcourts in the league. Against the Washington Wizards, Ibaka posted 25 points and 18 rebounds. He set a career-tying 20 rebounds against the Bucks in Milwaukee earlier this season.
But the question all Thunder fans and myself are pondering is: Are these numbers good enough to be named an All-Star alongside the best bigs in the NBA?
In comparison with the league, Ibaka ranks just fifth in block shots a game, and ninth in rebounds. The only problem with Ibaka being an All-Star for the first time, is his fierce competition. That list includes Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph, Anthony Davis, David Lee and Dirk Nowitzki.
Usually, there are about four or five All-Stars in the frontcourt for the Western Conference. Assuming Love, Griffin and Randolph are automatics, that leaves the last spot down to Ibaka, Lee, and Nowitzki. This season, Nowitzki is averaging 20.6 points and six rebounds a game; Lee is averaging 17.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game this year.
In terms of an "All-Star," all three players are playing at that caliber level. The numbers will tell you that Lee or Nowitzki deserve the selection over Ibaka, as both players are averaging more points than he is. However, Nowitzki is the decline stage of his career and Lee doesn't impact the game all too much for the Warriors, the way Ibaka does for Oklahoma City.
In so, it should be intriguing to see if Ibaka can sneak his way into being an All-Star for the first time in his career. That would mean Oklahoma City would have three players in the All-Star game for the first time in its franchise.
Ibaka doesn't seem to be worried about the selection, as he said via Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK, "If I make All-Star, it's great, but I'm not concerned about All-Star. My mentality is to just keep playing great and my team can win."
Eli Friedman has previously worked for Fansided.com, and Rant Sports as the Oklahoma City Thunder Beat Writer. Friedman's work has been published on FoxSports.com, ESPN TrueHoop affiliate dailythunder.com, and the OKC Thunder team page on SI.com. Eli has also appeared on many sports talk shows such as ESPN RADIO 1420.
You can follow Friedman on twitter @Eli_NBAOKC.
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