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News » More than a project

More than a project

More than a projectWhen Scott Brooks came to the defense of Serge Ibaka last week, the Thunder coach was simply sticking up for his player like he has with his entire roster since taking over in Oklahoma City. Only this time, in defending his rookie big man, Brooks inadvertently and uncharacteristically fed into expectations rather than tempering them.

Brooks objected to any description of Ibaka as a raw big man. The coach called the label unfair and said the 20-year-old Congo native is much more than a project.

"Raw players can't run, can't jump and can't shoot," Brooks said. "They're just tall and have potential. I've been cut because we've had raw players on the team that they were trying to develop. Serge is a talented guy that brings it. And he plays with a lot of effort.

"I know that he's young, and he's only been around the NBA for four months. But I've been around players that I would say are raw, and I would not consider Serge raw. I consider him a very athletic bright guy that wants to get better, and I see improvements."

Ibaka's rapid development was on display Monday night in an open practice at Midwest City High.

On one possession, Ibaka coolly nailed a jump hook in the lane. A few possessions later, he soared over fellow rookie Byron Mullens for a one-handed dunk. And between finishing off numerous dump-off passes in the lane with two-handed jams, he gobbled every rebound that came his way.

The big man can indeed play.

"I've been with Serge all summer," said No. 3 overall pick James Harden. "He's been improving every single day, whether it's his jump shot, rebounding or post moves.

"And his English is getting a lot better, too. But he's just improving every day. He's becoming a great player."

While Ibaka still isn't fluent in English, the language barrier is becoming less of an issue. Brooks joked that he uses exaggerated hand signals and facial expressions to relay his message to run faster, jump higher and rebound and go up stronger.

"I give Serge a lot of credit," Brooks said. "Back in June, he struggled a little bit with the language. We kind of knew that going in. But he's done a great job picking it up. He's taking classes and he's really focused on understanding the language.

"It's going to help me when I can communicate with him and he can just go out and do it. Instead of trying to figure out what I'm trying to get across to him he can just play with his instincts."

But when it came to explaining his role, Ibaka's English was crystal clear - a good sign considering many American-born big men don't know, understand or accept their role.

"My first job on the team is to rebound, block shots and run," said Ibaka, who will have mastered four languages once he gets English down pat. "I need to focus on this job. My offense comes slow."

Ibaka said he admired Kevin Garnett's style of play and toughness when he was younger and also likes Chris Bosh. When asked about the transition to his first NBA training camp, Ibaka said his biggest problem is concentration.

"I know it's not easy," Ibaka said of his development. "I need more practice."

Brooks said it's too early to start envisioning spots where he might be able to use Ibaka this season and said Ibaka just needs to focus on working to get better.

"I keep it simple with Serge," Brooks said. "I want him to run the floor. I want him to rebound and I want him to protect the basket and block shots. I don't look for other things that put pressure on him, like scoring points. If he can get some easy baskets by running the floor and catching dump off passes from our perimeter players, that's great. But I want to keep it real simple with him until he understands how we play and our system, and that's going to take some time. But he's made improvements."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 8, 2009


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