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Serge Ibaka's Not a Viable No. 2 Scoring Option

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The Grizzlies can hold him down through forcing poor shot selection and late-in-the-shot-clock offerings.

I'll admit it: I didn't take the Grizzlies that seriously. I mean, if you have a team that has now gone 16-12 (and 3-0 in the playoffs) while holding a .442 offensive effective field goal percentage (eFG%) or worse, that has to be some type of statistical anomaly, right?

But the Memphis defense is just that good. The OKC offense has absolutely broken down without Russell Westbrook; the Thunder haven't even reached .500 eFG% in a single game this series after averaging the league's third-best mark at .527 eFG% during the regular season.

Kevin Durant can't take 50 shots a game and perform efficiently. It would be awesome to watch, but Durant going Super Kobe Style may just give Scott Brooks a heart attack. So instead, you're going to see more performances like Game 3, where Serge Ibaka (17 FGA), Kevin Martin (17), and Reggie Jackson (15) attempt almost as many shots as Durant (19) in an attempt to spread out the scoring.

But it's a futile attempt. Slam Online wrote earlier today that Ibaka has lost his confidence so far this series. I'm going to take it one step further: the Grizzlies have found exactly how to get Ibaka out of his rhythm, and it's not likely come back any time soon.

The lack of a Russell Westbrook on the perimeter allows the Grizzlies to load up on defensive pressure in the paint, and Ibaka isn't seeing the late-in-the-shot-clock open looks he's used to. And without his reliable presence, the Thunder are absolutely lost.

Shot Chart

Ibaka Shot Chart

Shot chart per basketball-reference.com.

See all of those red splotches about 20 feet away from the basket? That's not good. Serge Ibaka is at his best when dominating the paint, using his size and strength to grab offensive boards for easy scoring opportunities. According to 82games.com, Ibaka held a .628 eFG% on shots in close to the basket this season, accounting for 21 percent of his total shots taken.

That same table, though, reveals something interesting about his jump shooting ability. During the regular season, his outside shot actually wasn't all that bad. His effective field goal percentage (which takes into account the usefulness of three's, even if Ibaka didn't make that many) sat at .505 eFG% during the regular season. For comparison's sake, Durant's jump shot eFG% wasn't much worse at .522 eFG%, and fellow forward Nick Collison was all the way down at .434 eFG% on jump shots.

But how much of that was Westbrook's play getting him the ball? Too much for Ibaka to still be consistent. An astonishing 87 percent of Ibaka's made jumpers were off an assist, meaning that his main outside game is the catch-and-shoot. Compare that with Durant, who only saw 50 percent of his jumpers come off of an assist, and it's obvious that Ibaka can't create his own shot. And with Westbrook no longer running the point, those catch-and-shoot opportunities won't happen nearly as often.

We're led right back to that good old shot chart. What happens when Westbrook isn't around to draw away defenders? All of those X's on the outside - Ibaka went 0 for 7 on shots outside the paint in Game 3. Of course, if he was running a fast-break, he might be seeing open jumpers anyway without Westbrook, but...

Shot Clock Usage

Just how did the Grizzlies force Ibaka to take so many terrible shots? It's simple: their slow pace and defensive prowess inside did not allow Ibaka his usual late-in-the-shock-clock opportunities.

It's common that the longer a team waits in the shot clock, the less likely they are to score. Fast breaks are typically positive for a reason, you know.

However, that particular axiom previously hadn't taken hold for Serge Ibaka. As the third option in the Thunder offense, if Ibaka got the ball late in the shot clock, it was likely the result of a spectacular Durant or Westbrook play. Close to the rim buckets late in the clock were an Ibaka specialty, and they led him to a higher effective field goal percentage in the final four seconds of the shot clock than the preceding 10 seconds.

Regular Season eFG% by Shot Clock

Seconds Taken% of AttemptseFG%
0-1037%.661
11-1526%.513
16-2023%.545
21+15%.586

Table per 82games.com

But what happens when Westbrook is no longer there as that second option forcing defenses out on the perimeter? If Game 3 is any indication, Ibaka won't get any of those late-in-the-clock easy opportunities inside. In fact, Ibaka only took one shot in the final four seconds of the shot clock - a desperation 20-foot jumper as the shot clock was expiring in the fourth quarter.

Game 3 eFG% by Shot Clock

Seconds Taken% of AttemptseFG%
0-1047%.500
11-1524%.500
16-2024%.000
21+6%.000

Early in the shot clock, when Ibaka's seeing his normal fast-break buckets or offensive rebound put-backs? Not much of a change. But past those early makes? Serge Ibaka couldn't buy a bucket to save his life.

And here's where his shot selection and Memphis' use of the shot clock merge. His two shots made between 11 and 15 seconds in the shot clock were the only two times he attempted a shot within three feet in the final 14 seconds of the shot clock. He missed five field goals at 16 seconds into the possession or above - those five shots were taken from 19 feet, 19 feet, 19 feet, 20 feet, and five feet (in order of appearance).

They couldn't feed it to him down low through the normal running of the offense. He wasn't hitting shots outside. Nothing was working for Serge Ibaka in Game 3. Considering he's now shot 12 for 39 this series, I don't see that changing any time soon. The Grizzlies have figured out the distinct gameplan to stopping OKC's forced No. 2 option.

Looking Forward

Our analytics don't see great tidings for Ibaka moving forward. Using regression analysis, Ibaka should only be expected to shoot .408 eFG% in a given game without Westbrook out as compared to .589 eFG% with him around. Granted, that's with a small sample size of games without Westbrook (that's what happens when Westbrook had played in every game since the Carter Presidency), but it's still an interesting figure to look at.

After the Thunder's Game 3 loss, our analytics don't give them a particularly high chance moving forward. The Grizzlies are now our favorite to win the series, and Memphis now holds an 8.8 percent chance at the Title according to our power rankings.

4 Games5 Games6 Games7 GamesTotal Win Odds
Oklahoma City0.00%0.00%15.57%27.36%42.93%
Memphis0.00%17.77%26.00%13.30%57.07%

For the Thunder to come back, somebody will have to step up as that second option behind Durant. It might be Martin. It might be Jackson. It could even still be Ibaka. But with the Grizzlies' defense strategy on the forward, I wouldn't be holding my breath for a Serge-inspired offense Renaissance any time soon.

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In This Article

Kevin Martin
GF, Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Durant
F, Oklahoma City Thunder

Serge Ibaka
FC, Oklahoma City Thunder

Reggie Jackson
G, Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook
PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

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