The Cleveland Cavaliers are not in the NBA Playoffs but have some of the best fans in the world, fans who follow important games even when their teams are not in them. Unfortunately for most Cleveland fans those important games more often then not do not involve their team. Those who have watched the Western Conference Finals have seen the Oklahoma City Thunder go from getting blown out in the first two games, to blowing up the San Antonio Spurs in the next 2 games. The difference? Serge Ibaka. Even in Game 5, a game the Thunder lost, Ibaka’s lack of impact on the game was a key for the Thunder.
For the Cavs this brings up a draft related question: Should they see the impact of Ibaka and lean toward Joel Embiid instead of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? Ibaka is a power forward who provides great rim protection and “lurks” for any player driving to the basket on the Thunder. He often impacts the shots of players even without blocking them. He can cover great ground with his length, allowing his teammates to gamble more. On offense Ibaka has developed a solid mid range game and can play a little under the basket. His shooting provides spacing for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to drive to the hole.
Embiid on the other hand is a center who provides great rim protection and “lurks” for any player driving to the basket. He impacts shots of players even when he doesn’t block them. He can cover ground with his length which helps him and his teammates to gamble a little more often. On offense Embiid is far more developed with his interior game, can finish with either hand and has a variety of post moves. His form on his jump shot is solid and his is steadily improving it. He won’t provide the same depth of spacing that Ibaka does but he provides far better interior offense then Serge.
Grantland did a great piece looking at Ibaka in relation to the James Harden trade where the Thunder basically chose Ibaka over Harden, check out the whole article for some great insight. A couple of quotes stand out in relation to the Cavs decision between Wiggins and Ibaka, a similar decision as the Thunder had to make, with only money as a big difference:
Basketball is funny that way. It’s complicated. Ibaka might be an unspectacular scorer, but he’s a spectacular defender, and he can affect every single defensive possession.
Embiid can impact every single defensive possession.
Harden is an offense-oriented player who needs the ball, and the Thunder already had two of those in Russell Westbrook and Durant. Harden’s skills were at least somewhat redundant, even though the team gradually found ways for all three to play off of each other. Ibaka is a defense-oriented rim protector, and the Thunder had no one like him.
The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters who are solid offensive players but have no one like Embiid. To be fair they also don’t have any player that is a solid two way player as Wiggins projects, and haven’t had a solid starting small forward outside a few games from Luol Deng.
Does that mean Embiid could impact the Cavs the same way Ibaka does the Thunder? Sure, he could. Do the Cavs believe enough in Waiters and Irving to carry the team’s outside scoring in a similar way that Durant and Westbrook do for the Thunder? Not to that extent but maybe they do. Does that mean that Embiid should be the pick over Wiggins? Not necessarily but Ibaka does help those making the argument for Embiid to the Cavs.
Does Ibaka’s play, impact on the Spurs/Thunder series sway your thoughts on Embiid/Wiggins decision?