LA Clippers Quarterly Grades: Serge Ibaka (Q1)

How has the Clippers' starting center faired one fourth of the way through the 2020-21 season?
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Stats (as of January 23): 11.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 52.2% FG, 34.1% 3PT, 60.4 TS%

For the most part, Serge Ibaka has filled the role that the Clippers were lacking last season: a rim-protecting big who can spread the floor and allow Kawhi Leonard to operate in the post with space.

Last year, the big-man rotation of Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell gave the Clippers less versatility on either end of the floor. Zubac was quietly one of the best rim protectors in the league, but his inability to shoot outside of the paint allowed opposing defenses to send help when Leonard would post up. Harrell brought the same issues (though he would at least offer up a mid-range jumper from time to time) in addition to his lack of height and defensive incapability. Marcus Morris Sr. offered spacing as a small-ball center, but he presented the same difficulties as Harrell defensively, save for some more switchability.

Ibaka brings a package of skills that are ideal around the Clippers’ two stars, even if these skills aren’t as potent as they once were earlier in his career.

In his OKC days, he carried the moniker ‘Iblocka’ because of his shot-blocking prowess and absurd athleticism (he’s led the league in blocks twice). Now in his age-31 season, he’s posting the third-lowest block rate of his career at 4.1%. Ibaka still roams the paint as if he has the ability to swat a shot even when he’s out of position. A young Ibaka had the ability to gamble, recover, and contest a shot off of a second effort because of his agility and length. Now, if Ibaka gambles, it’s often a bunny for the offensive player. Even so, his defensive numbers are solid, as the Clippers are allowing a 108.3 defensive rating with Ibaka on the floor. His presence in the paint still deters opposing offenses, and he’s relatively mobile when switched onto quicker perimeter players.

Offensively, Ibaka has been the only Clipper to not be shooting an absurd percentage from beyond the 3-point arc. Yet 34% is a solid enough number to keep defenses honest, and he’s proven he can shoot close to 40% on a larger sample size. Overall, 60.4% true shooting would be the second-highest of his career. He still has his go-to jump hook in the lane, and though he’s being guarded by bigger players now that he’s playing almost exclusively at center, he finds a way to fight for good position and get himself easy baskets off of drop-off passes and offensive rebounds.

The theory of Ibaka might be better than the actuality of him at this point in his career, but sometimes that’s all a team needs. If an opposing offense thinks he’s going to block their shot, they’ll stay out of the lane. If an opposing defense thinks he’ll hit a high amount of his threes, they won’t help off of him. He continues to be an extremely effective player and an above-average starting center, and the Clippers will need him come playoff time.

Quarter 1 Grade: B