Oklahoma City News, Entertainment & Occasional Humor • Established 2007

Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Summer Serge

ibaka
(Editors note:  Ladies, don’t say I never did anything for you.)

To put this in terms that Oklahomans can understand, this portion of the Summer is the NBA’s version of “recruiting season.”  The NBA Draft was a couple of weeks ago, free agency just officially began, and teams are putting together their roster for next season.

One thing that gets lost in this shuffle is the NBA’s equivalent of “Spring practices.”  Since it is held during the Summer, they call it Summer League.

Summer League is where NBA GM’s send their draft picks and other young players (or as the Thunder refer to such players:  their roster) to improve during the off-season and how they test the way borderline free agent prospects (or “walk ons”) might operate in the team’s system.  Like, Spring practices for college football, the play is atrocious and is only interesting because there is nothing better to watch.

As I write this, the Thunder have completed their first two games of the Orlando Summer League and are 1-1.  Of course, me telling you the team’s record might be the most meaningless information you receive today.  The only thing that might possibly rival the worthlessness of the Thunder’s game results will be the player statistics I am about to impart on you.

Just as one would expect the actual NBA players who are on the Thunder team are dominating.  Russell Westbrook (22pts, 8.5 ast per game and only nine turnovers through two games) looks like a future hall of famer, James Harden (44% from three) is the odds on favorite for rookie of the year, and D.J. White is making the case for Most Improved Player.  The problem?  When the NBA season comes around, these guys will be guarded by world class athletes and not D-League rejects.

What I have learned about Summer League statistics is that seeing a player succeed is not much of an indicator for anything, but if a player struggles, their hope of contributing during the regular season is pretty much nil.  I’m looking at you Kyle Weaver.

All of that taken into account, the revelation during the early days in Orlando has been the legend of Serge Ibaka.  Going back to college football similes, the drafting of Serge Ibaka with the 24th overall pick of the 2008 draft was like Bob Stoops tendering a scholarship offer to a one star athlete from an eight man football district (note:  that actually happened).  Initially, every fan of the team goes through the WTF stage.  Only the most avid draft follower had ever heard the nameof the Congolese power forward, and those had no reason to expect that Ibaka would ever make it to the United States.  At the time he was drafted, my assumption was that Presti intended to stow him overseas for several years at which point he would either A) be good enough that he could make more money by playing overseas than his rookie NBA contract would allow or B) be a complete bust who would come over and take the $1.5/MM guaranteed by his rookie contract because he couldn’t keep up with foreign players.

Of course, the next stage was also familiar to college football fans:  mythologizing about the unknown prospect.  Just as the mysterious recruit is labeled as a hidden gem, Ibaka was literally compared (favorably) to Dwight Howard on Thunder message boards.

The thing is, during his first two games in Orlando, on the heal of news that he would join the team during the 2009/10 season, Ibaka actually lived up to some of the hype.  Personally, I expected an extremely raw, but athletic, kid who would look lost on the floor but occasionally do something spectacular athletically…kind of like Saer Sene used to do.  Instead, he looked somewhat polished.  Starting for the Summer League team, he took a nice entry pass from Shaun Livingston, drop stepped his defender and spun nicely for a quick lay up within the first minute of the game.

Sure, I said that the results of a Summer League game were of no merit, and I meant that.  It wasn’t so much that Ibaka scored there or the fact that he averaged thirteen points in his first two outings that impressed me.  The thing to take from Ibaka’s performance is that he actually has some basketball acumen.  While he still had some of those moments where he looked out of control or lost on the floor, the majority of the time, one could not tell that he was drafted as a project.  If his legend turns out to be more fact, I may end up eating the words I wrote about Sam Presti as a talent evaluator from last week.

email

Comments

  1. [...] P, L & T: “The thing is, during his first two games in Orlando, on the heal of news that he would join the team during the 2009/10 season, Ibaka actually lived up to some of the hype. Personally, I expected an extremely raw, but athletic, kid who would look lost on the floor but occasionally do something spectacular athletically…kind of like Saer Sene used to do. Instead, he looked somewhat polished … If his legend turns out to be more fact, I may end up eating the words I wrote about Sam Presti as a talent evaluator from last week.” [...]

  2. I am going to admit that, rabid Thunder zealot that I am, I am incapable of watching more than 30 seconds of a fuzzy webcast basketball game! So, my direct contribution to the discussion of the summer league games is limited. However I CAN discuss at length (should you care to) my excitement for the upcoming season, and finding out how our young cast of merry (and BUFF!!) teenagers can fit together into a cohesive unit. Right now I anticipate a 8 man rotation of Westbrook/Durant/Green/Sefolosha/Harden/Collison/White/Weaver with maybe Ibaka/Mullens fighting for the 9th spot. Coach Brooks seemed to keep a tight hold of the minutes last season, so I don’t see him mixing up the line-ups that much, even though spots 8-11 are players of equal inconsistency and raw promise.

  3. Some would say that putting up with the tiny screen of fuzz they call a webcast is worth it just for the Dante and Galante commentary.

    Yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Byron Mullens go up against the man-child that is Robert Swift, aka Zartan, aka Bob Slow. For those of us who just like to watch the world burn, this was live blooper footage at it’s best, and I loved every minute of it. Even if I was sitting in my mother’s basement editing wiki pages on a whim.

  4. The way Weaver is playing in the Summer League, I don’t see him making the rotation unless there is an injury. I’m anticipating the eight man to be: Westbrook/Sefolosha/Durant/Green/Krstic/Collison/Harden/Livingston. Mullens and Ibaka will probably spend a lot of time in Tulsa. That leaves Watson/Atkins/Wilkins on the chopping block, and White/Weaver hoping for some openings in the rotation.

  5. I do not expect to see Watson or Atkins in Thunder Blue for opening night. And I agree that Livingston is the prime candidate for Weaver’s minutes, I just don’t trust his health. I was surprised to read that prior to the “career ending carnage injury” he had previously had two, not-minor, injuries as a rookie!?! Reminds me of the Dime magazine comment about Robert Swift being made of wet toilet tissue!!

  6. @Jax- Part of my inability to watch the webcasts may have SOMETHING to do with sharing my home computer with a ePet and horseland.com obsessed 5 year-old, and a animalplanet.com obsessed 10 year-old. (not to mention, our 23 month old who prefers Google/images searches for balls or boats!)

  7. Ibaka- think Blake Griffin athleticism and coordination with an outside shot. Look out if the game comes easily to him. Won the Spanish league slam dunk contest. Held up one of those big bogus checks with 7,000 Euro printed on it. Check it on youtube. Had some sick dunks off the back of the glass. The Spurs and Thunder the only teams to see him work out. Presti picked one spot ahead of San Antonio at #24. They would have no doubt taken him if the Thunder passed, much like the Kings would have been delighted to select James Hardin at #4 had the Thunder passed on him. The shrewd GMs in the league have a hunch what other clubs are apt to do. Cuban knew the Thunder wanted DJ White, so the Mavs took him one spot ahead and leveraged him for a future 2nd round pick. The future seems bright in OKC.

  8. Crimson Edgar gave a perfect example of deifying players you know little about. While I hope you are right, if this kid had anything close to Blake Griffin abilities, it would be hard to believe that no more than the Thunder and Spurs would have found him. Also, he actually only worked out for the Thunder, but Presti allowed the Spurs to attend. That kind of irks me since he doesn’t work for San Antonio anymore.

  9. All I know is what I sees on the internets and the youtubes. Only comparing his athleticism and coordination to Blake’s, a physical specimen that is graceful in movement, plus an outside shot. Blake we don’t know yet. They’ve both won a slam dunk comp as well. Blake’s in high school so he didn’t get to score 7,000 Euro. Blake’s been playing the game all his life, Serge recently took it up, but it aren’t rocket sciene. I got the impression few knew about Ibaka, and those that did kept it to themselves. Everyone has called about him know that word is out. Fun to imagine, but you’re right, I don’t know what the fuck I’m, talking about on the NBA. Just recently started paying attention again.

  10. “While I hope you are right, if this kid had anything close to Blake Griffin abilities, it would be hard to believe that no more than the Thunder and Spurs would have found him.”

    I share Clark Matthews’ skepticism, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Spurs were significantly smarter than the rest of the league. And Sam Presti was there for a lot of that, too.

Previous Post Biker Fox is happy…
Next Post Ernest Istook’s son was possibly frozen in carbonite…