HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — On a late-night highlight show Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder were shown scoring just about every which way in a 114-96 victory over the visiting Phoenix Suns.
Including Serge Ibaka draining a first-quarter corner 3-pointer. The host of the highlight show specifically singled out the shot as his voice took on an incredulously high-pitched tone that suggested this was an event to behold, like a comet that comes around once a millennium.
But not so fast.
Now, Ibaka’s phenomenal surge as a mid-range jump shooter this season has been well-documented. Two months in and he’s still shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 51 percent on mid-range shots, according to NBA.com advanced stats. It’s the main reason why Ibaka has improved his scoring average by five points over last season to a career-best 14.3 points a game entering tonight’s home game against the Brooklyn Nets.
But the 3-ball? That’s hardly in the 6-foot-10, 235-pounder’s repertoire.
Or is it?
“He likes to shoot occasionally a 3, but that’s not really his range, yet,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said last month.
“I think it’s going to get there,” Brooks said. “Hopefully maybe even this season.”
Serge Ibaka career 3-point statistics
It would become quite an alternate weapon in key situations considering how defenses must target Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and 3-point sharpshooter Kevin Martin.
Ibaka isn’t going crazy from beyond the arc, but the 23 year old is gradually adding the long-range jumper to his ever-evolving game.
In the last five games, he’s taken four 3-pointers, one more than he took all of last season and just two shy of his total attempts in his first three seasons. He made two of the four in these last five games, tying his career total for made 3s before this season.
As for this season, Ibaka is 5-for-18 from beyond the arc, just 27.8 percent. Clearly he’d like to hit on a higher percentage, but the fact that he’s taken three times as many 3-pointers through 30 games this season as he had during his first three seasons combined shows that Brooks has given him the green light to prudently look for the shot.
His most memorable 3 so far was a first-half buzzer-beater from straightaway against the Clippers to give OKC a 59-49 lead in a game the Thunder would need overtime to close out. His preference is the corner 3, where he’s taken 15 of his 18 shots.
If Ibaka consistently improves from 23 feet out the way he has from inside the arc, opposing defenses will have to highlight yet another danger zone in the Thunder scouting report.