The Oklahoma City Thunder may eventually have to part ways with Serge Ibaka (or Kendrick Perkins) but are for now blessed with a big man who has sky-high potential.
Hakeem Olajuwon would be the perfect tutor for Ibaka for various reasons. Olajuwon has shown he is willing to reach out to current NBA players like LeBron James and Dwight Howard, so if Ibaka can manage to spend some time with one of the NBA’s greatest centers of all time, he would be wise to take full advantage of it.
Olajuwon has already reached out to OKC coach Scott Brooks regarding Ibaka.
Here are five skills that Serge Ibaka could learn from Hakeem Olajuwon and make a push at becoming an elite center/power forward.
1. Offensive post moves and footwork
The consensus last year was that the Oklahoma City Thunder really needed an offensive post presence.
Although it was masked by two of the NBA’s most prolific scorers (three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook), Ibaka and Perkins did not provide nearly enough lift offensively.
Most often, Scott Brooks would have to choose one or the other to play center and have Kevin Durant play power forward because having two players who cannot score the basketball on the court at the same time is a huge liability.
Not only that but it allows an extra man (and a half) guard Durant or Westbrook whether they sag off Ibaka or Perkins or simply double a scorer.
Olajuwon is known as one of the best offensive big men of all time. In fact, Pete Newell said Olajuwon has “the best footwork [he’s] ever seen from a big man” (per NBA.com).
You don’t get much higher praise than that.
So, if Ibaka could figure out something even remotely similar to the Dream Shake (video above), he could become more of a weapon and less of a liability for the Thunder.
2. Get defensive rebounds more effectively and efficiently
Over his career, Ibaka averages less than seven rebounds per game.
That needs to change—especially if he is going to be a primary big man.
While there is truth to the statement that defensive presence is more than just statistics, rebounds do have quantitative value: namely preventing offensive rebounds and allowing your team to get transition opportunities.
Hakeem Olajuwon averaged over 11 rebounds in his career. He could likely briefly watch some tape of Ibaka and suggest the best way for Ibaka to improve his rebounding.
It may be something as simple as effort and boxing out, or it may be more intricate—perhaps transitioning better from being a shot-blocker to a rebounder. Either way, this would be something that would significantly improve Ibaka’s overall game.
3. The mindset of a big man
Although Ibaka is already approaching the league’s elite big men, his offensive game isn’t quite there.
Perhaps more importantly, his mindset and outward appearance isn’t there yet.
Too often we see Ibaka running up and down the court looking too much like a nice guy. The center position isn’t meant to be friendly—people don’t call it “battling” for rebounds for nothing.
Hakeem’s sustained success in the NBA can always come back to his mental composure and appearance. Just look at some of the league’s best centers in recent memory (Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard): something in their swagger is intimidating.
Breaking backboards does tend to do that to an opponent.
4. Shot blocking
To be fair, Serge Ibaka is already one of the league’s best shot-blockers.
In fact, his league leading 241 blocks was over 100 more than the second-place finisher.
But just imagine where Ibaka could be if he got some tips from the NBA’s all-time blocks leader. And going back two slides, if Ibaka can learn how to rebound and shot block effectively he will be right up there with Dwight Howard as the league’s best defensive presence.
5. How to play with other great players
All of the aforementioned skills are useless if Ibaka cannot coexist with Durant and Westbrook.
That’s not to say that he hasn’t been already, just that offensively Westbrook likes to handle the ball a lot and shoot early in the shot clock while Durant is capable of taking over games with the ball in his hands.
Hakeem knows what that’s like, having played with one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, Clyde Drexler (who I have interviewed).
Preparing Ibaka to gameplan with Durant and Westbrook and prepare to create opportunities for himself is critical in order to remain on the floor and in an Oklahoma City uniform.
He already has a decent jump shot—if he can become more of an offensive threat he will make his way up near/to the top of the NBA’s best big men.
This article can also be viewed at Bleacher Report.com