Serge Ibaka serves reminder of his greatness


Toronto Raptors Congolese-Spanish forward Serge Ibaka is known for his defensive abilities. ‘Air Congo’, as he is sometimes referred to, is a two-time NBA Blocked Shots champion and has been named to the NBA All-Defensive Team three times in his career. He is averaging a career-high 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game, but the soft-spoken giant is also averaging 12.1 points per game over his 10-year career.

That part is often omitted when Ibaka’s game is discussed, despite the fact that he has averaged double-figure scoring in all but his first three years in the NBA.

The reason for overlooking the scoring of Ibaka is simple: although he scores in double figures, his range is the ‘pedestrian’ 10-to-19-points average. He seldom scores in the headline-grabbing 20-points or more range. In all his years in the league, Ibaka has scored 20 points or more just 67 times in the 686 games he’s played so far. And, of those 67 times, he has scored 30 points or more just twice.

In November 2016, while he was still in Orlando, Ibaka put on a show for his former fans and team when the Magic visited Oklahoma City. He scored a career-high 31 points as the Magic triumphed, 119-117, to end a three-game slump and rendered Russell Westbrook’s 41 points just a statistical footnote.

There was a bit of debate a couple of seasons ago about Ibaka’s real age. This was fueled by a slump in form of the Congolese big man, and several media outlets jumped on the story. In 2016, an article on reddit.com stated:

“Ibaka has gotten worse in every single stat and advanced metric since he was 24. He has regressed in every single aspect of the game since the 2013-14 season. From watching every Thunder game this season, he even looks much slower and sluggish on the court, especially on the defensive end. He doesn’t get as much lift on his jumper anymore, either. Yes, I know his role changed a bit and he had some injuries, but a player with Ibaka’s build should not be slowing down this early.” Ibaka was forced to release a statement, angrily replying that “he was not born in a jungle”, and there is a record of his birth.

Shortly after that Ibaka was traded to Orlando and his game experienced an upswing. Masai Ujiri then traded for him and he moved to the Toronto Raptors, where he seems to be getting better with every season, defying the age theorists.

If Ibaka was effective for the Raptors last season, he’s been even more so this term. Air Congo was averaging 14.5 points per game as the Raptors went six games without losing. Then, early on Tuesday morning, the Raptors traveled to Milwaukee for the showdown between the last two teams yet to suffer a loss in the league.

The Raptors were without Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP and multiple All-NBA selection they acquired from San Antonio Spurs. Leonard has led the Raptors well so far this season and, in his absence, Ibaka stepped up in a big way. Although the Raptors lost 124-109, Ibaka served a reminder of his greatness: leading all scorers, plundered another 30 points in the game of his career. He went 12-of-21 from the floor, was a perfect 4-of-4 from the free-throw line, hit 2-of-5 from range, and added nine rebounds.

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