Jump Ball A Matty Series PNG

Previous “Jump Ball” articles:

9/19 – Russell Westbrook v Damian Lillard

9/26 – Kawhi Leonard v Jimmy Butler

TALE OF THE TAPE

BLAKE GRIFFINSERGE IBAKA
Los Angeles ClippersTeamOklahoma City Thunder
PF, CPosition (Y! Eligibility)PF, C
2014 Results
41st9-Cat Rank (Total Value)36th
28th9-Cat Rank (Per Game)18th
67Games Played64
35.2Minutes Per Game33.1
27.0 (16th)Usage Rate (Rank)17.6 (T-194th)

THE CASE FOR BLAKE GRIFFIN

This summer, while the DeAndre Jordan free agency “saga” (as polite a word as I can think to use for that situation) was playing itself out, I was trying to figure out whether it would be a boon or hindrance to Blake Griffin’s value if the Clippers lost their star center to the Mavericks. Would a replacement level big man playing next to Blake force him to correct his falling rebound and block statistics (the two areas in which Jordan excels)? Or would it lead to foul trouble, frustration, and less opportunity for Griffin to continue expanding his offensive range and versatility? Ultimately I settled on it being somewhat of a good thing for BG’s value that Jordan spurned the Mavs and re-upped with LA.

The evolution of Blake Griffin’s game has actually, to some degree at least, mirrored that of his “Jump Ball” counterpart, Serge Ibaka. Both 26-year olds have seen a decline in their block numbers over the last few seasons, and both have put in work during past off-seasons with eyes on extending their shooting range. The latter of which has come with a predictable drop in FG% for both Ibaka and Griffin. I would predict that with Jordan returning to the fold and gobbling up space in the paint, Blake takes the same step Serge did last year and extends out beyond the arc more frequently. That experiment was unsuccessful in 2013 when Griffin took a career-high 44 attempts from deep, connecting on only 12 (.273 3FG%). However, last year Griffin was more selective with his long-range attempts and hit 10 of 25 (.400). So perhaps Blake can harness the best of both worlds and start providing fantasy owners with some out-of-position 3-point production. I also believe that given DeAndre’s well-document struggles from the FT line, Blake will see his fair share of minutes at the 5 during the fourth quarter of tightly contested games. In an ideal world, this would allow BG to pad his rebounding stats while coach Doc Rivers rolls out a smaller lineup with a Paul Pierce or Josh Smith at power forward and Blake at the pivot.

Ultimately what you’re going to get from rostering Blake Griffin is a top-10 NBA scorer with solid contributions in rebounds, FG%, and some nice assist totals at the PF spot. He is a relatively durable player having suited up for 80 or more games in three of his four non-lockout-shortened seasons to date. Moving forward there are no major health concerns attached to Blake Griffin and that should give you the warm & fuzzies when you’re about to pull the trigger on a player with a top-20 pick.

THE CASE FOR SERGE IBAKA

Perhaps the best case I can make for Serge Ibaka is the one I can make against his “Jump Ball” opponent. Blake Griffin’s inability to get within shouting distance of a block per game, given his other-worldly athleticism, is one of the more confounding things in professional basketball. Griffin is 6’10” and could block shots with his elbows if he wanted to. So is it as simple as a lack of interest on the defensive end? Could it be a bi-product of the system he plays in where he’s coached to just let DeAndre Jordan clean up the mess around the rim? Or is he as soft as he’s been accused of being and doesn’t want to go airborne unless it’s earning him a Highlight of the Night nomination? Whatever the reason(s) may be, Blake Griffin’s lack of blocks, combined with his declining rebound numbers are causing me to question whether the “elite” label can be applied to him any longer.

Now onto Mr. Serge Ibaka, himself. The Thunder big man has seen quite the evolution in his own offensive game, with no more glaring example than his shot chart from 2014 relative to his first five seasons in the NBA. Ibaka took 205 three-point shots last year in only 64 games. During his first 382 games (spanning the 2009 to 2013 seasons) he attempted 123. Total. Typically that kind of drastic change in usage is a result of compensating for the loss of a high-volume, floor-spacing teammate. And that is, of course, exactly what we witnessed in Oklahoma City last year as former MVP Kevin Durant was in street clothes far more often than he was in a Thunder jersey. As Durant was setting up residence on the bench, Ibaka was honing his long-distance shooting skills, but also seeing a precipitous drop in his overall FG%. Having stayed comfortably above .500 in each of his first five seasons, Ibaka fell to .476 on 12.3 field goal attempts per game (a career-high), due in large part to the simple fact that he was taking more shots farther from the basket.

However, with a reportedly healthy Durant back in the OKC fold for 2015, I fully expect a positive regression in FG% for Ibaka. Perhaps not back to the .530+ he enjoyed earlier in his career, but certainly to the point where he’s converting on one out of every two shots he takes. I am also anticipating a move back up closer to three blocks per game (at one point the “Serge Protector’s” calling card in the NBA), particularly because his fellow Thunder big man, Enes Kanter, can be counted among the handful of truly awful defensive players in the Association. There will be more help side block opportunities for Ibaka than he’s enjoyed in the last few years and if he isn’t carrying such an offensive burden, he should be able to re-focus on defense and challenge Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert for the league lead in swats. It probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways – that is a very good thing for his fantasy value.

Let’s take a look at how these two players should stack up head-to-head for fantasy owners in 2015 looking to roster a versatile power forward with a top-20 pick (* denotes my projected category winner):

BLAKE GRIFFINSERGE IBAKA
*Points
Rebounds*
*Assists
*Steals
Blocks*
FG%*
FT%*
TO*
3PM*
3Categories Won6

JUMP BALL

If your fantasy league awards points per dunk, or for SportsCenter face time, or for wearing track suits in silly car commercials, Blake Griffin is your runaway winner. But seeing as how those things don’t matter a lick when it comes to fantasy basketball, Serge Ibaka steals this jump ball.

Ibaka is one of the few players in the league who can have the “less is more” tag applied to him and actually have it stick. Less offensive burden will lead to improved efficiency. Less defensive help will lead to more block opportunities. With a stacked roster, the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t need Serge to be a star to contend for a championship. They just need him to be quietly great in all the ways he was earlier in his career, while also capitalizing on his improved offensive versatility.

Apart from last season where he missed 18 games, Serge Ibaka has been extremely durable and an elite fantasy asset. I have no doubts that he will outperform Blake Griffin on a per game and total value basis, and as such, I would confidently select “Air Congo” with a mid-to-late second round pick on draft day.

 

Agree/disagree? Who is your choice when you’re on the clock? Feedback is always welcome, so please share your thoughts in the comments sectionbelow or come find me in the Twitterverse at @moneyballmatty. Cheers!

 

H/T to the following sources for providing the stats & info that helped build the foundation of this article: Basketball Reference, Basketball Monster, ESPN (Hollinger’s Stats)

  1. Jeremy says:
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    Thank you for the well-written piece. I have a hard time believing serge’s blocks will go back up again, I feel like as players get older it only has one way to go, down. I still see about 2.5 a game tho. The thing I like about blake is that when your friends ask you how many All-stars you have on your team this year, you can proudly count as least 2, assuming your first pick is also an All-star xd. Kidding aside, my league counts free throws made, so I have blake a tad higher. But if I was in a standard 9 cat league, I would have to agree with you on serge.

    • Matty says:
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      @Jeremy: Thanks for reading, Jeremy. I hear what you’re saying re: Serge and blocks. The way I look at it is this – every player has 100 “energy points” over the course of a game and they need to be allocated to offense and defense. When Serge was the second scoring option for good stretches of last year (i.e. when the Thunder were sans KD and pre-Kanter trade) he was using up a higher percentage of his energy points on the offensive end. He was having to move more to get open, fight for scoring position, and expend more energy on that end of the floor – say 60% of his available points were being exhausted. That leaves him somewhat spent on the other end, so he’s maybe not rotating as fast on helpside defense, doesn’t have the same spring in his legs, etc. That would help to explain the decline in blocks.

      Anyways, it’s a theory…but as someone who plays the game three times a week (and I’m sure a huge portion of Razzball Nation plays a pickup game or three from time to time and can attest to this as well), I have to pick my spots where I’m going full-out or where I’m catching a bit of a breather. It’s no different in the pros, and it’s why truly dominant two-way players are few and far between.

      Ultimately I think that a healthy KD and a fully integrated Kanter make it so that Serge can be that third or fourth scoring option while reasserting himself on the defensive end. I would wager he’s more likely to bump back up to the 2.7-3.0 BPG mark than he is to continue losing a third of a block per game like he has the last couple years. And with a couple of the categories potentially REALLY close between Serge and Blake (like boards and FG%), it’s a pretty significant factor in choosing between these two guys.

      • Jeremy says:
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        @Matty:

        Your theory makes a lot of sense. There is a chance he does get back up to 2.8 or above. But personally i would go under. I guess ultimately, it comes down to who you pair one of these two guys with. If i take lebron at 5, then i will probably pick serge for the blocks and lower TOs. If i have john wall, i may lean towards blake to make up for the points, and completely dominate the Assist cat. I guess serge will work too because john wall is a high TO guy also. This is a really close one. Haha but i know ill pick Blake in my league just because free-throws made is a cat in mine. Serge’s volume in FT may even go lower according to your theory, so it doesn’t matter if he shoots over 75%, it wouldn’t help much.

  2. Adam

    Adam says:
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    Great article Matty!

    Couple things though. I’m not quite sure it’s a fair comparison, since their games aren’t similar at all. Butler and Kawhi, for instance, have very similar skillsets. With Blake you’re targeting a big that can basically put up stud PG stats, while with Ibaka you’re targeting shot blocking. So it’s kind of apples and oranges.

    I’ll preface this by saying I’m a big OKC fan, and I pretty much watch every game they play. I definitely agree that his FG% will climb back above 50, and history shows that he is a far more efficient player with KD on the floor. However, I think the FG% difference between the two is negligible, considering the larger impact Blake will have with 50%+ and more shots taken.

    In regards to the shot blocking, I think he may top 2.5 again, but Serge has seemed rather disinterested on the defensive end, since he has become more of a feature on offense. This has been true even with Westy and KD on the floor. Regardless of how many shots he takes, he still is far more involved in the offense than he was when he was putting up his gaudy 3+ bpg numbers.

    My point is, the two are rather close in total value, but who you take depends more on team build rather than one having clear superiority. If you plan on targeting blocks later with the likes of Myles Turner, Hibbert, etc I’d go Blake, especially considering how valuable assists appear to be this season, so scarcity at PG does factor into the decision a little bit.

    Personally, I’d probably go Ibaka by a little bit, but I have no problem either way. It just changes your build a tad.

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @Adam: Hey man. Thanks for reading and chiming in. You raise a couple really good points.

      When taking into account WEIGHTED FG%, you’re absolutely right – Blake will likely end up taking five to six more shots per game than Serge (somewhere in the 17 to 11-12 range, respectively). And if he and Ibaka both end up right around that 50% mark, BG is more valuable because that’s a positive category for them. And therefore Blake’s 50% is more impactful than Serge’s 50%. An oversight on my part in this article, for sure.

      And team build is absolutely a factor as well. It depends who you end up with in the first round and, like you said, your confidence in finding assists and blocks a bit later in the draft. If you have eyes on a Batum or Evans type in the 5th/6th round for non-PG assists, Blake is devalued a bit. Conversely, if you feel good about snagging a swat specialist later on (say, a John Henson type), maybe you lean towards Griffin.

      I think you’re going to have a lot of fun watching OKC this year, Adam. All things equal (i.e. no significant injuries to stars), I think it’s the Spurs & Thunder out west and then everyone else. I am really hoping for a SAS/OKC west finals. That could be seven games of awesome ball with Kawhi trying to lock up KD…Parker trying to keep up with Russ…Kanter failing miserably to guard either of Timmy or LMA…and then who emerges as the x-factor to tilt the series? A sharp-shooter like Morrow or Mills off the bench that nobody really gameplanned for? Bah! I’m so glad real ball is less than a month away!

      • Adam

        Adam says:
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        @Matty: Oh definitely! I think OKC possibly could’ve given GS a run for their money if they made the 8th seed last year. My dad’s whole side of the family are Cavs fans, so I tend to follow them pretty heavily as well. Waiters is a guy who could definitely be an x-factor. He has a ton of talent, just needed some veteran guidance to help him develop. He also likes to shoot a lot, and between him, KD, Westy, and Kanter, Ibaka might literally be the 5th option. Ibaka just can’t really create for himself.

        I sure hope it’s Thunder – Spurs, that’d be a great series for the Thunder to prove that they can take the west crown. Not to hate on the Warriors, but that title has an asterisk next to it in my opinion. They just didn’t look like the best team in the league, and they had a relatively easy road to facing a crippled Cavs team.

        25 days man!

  3. JB Gilpin

    JB Gilpin says:
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    I like the “less is more quote”. I remember on the Pod Slim and I were talking that he’s improved into such a well-rounded player, but it was HURTING his value! Rare you can say that for anyone. And agree, I moved Ibaka ahead of Blake a few weeks ago after having him lower. IBLOCKA

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @JB Gilpin: Come on now, JB, don’t be shy – you like the whole damn thing, not just one quote! (#modestyFTW)

      The huge x-factor in all of this, with regards to IBLOCKA, is the fact that OKC has a new coach…and he has no pro experience (ok, technically he did take that job with the Magic about eight years ago and then decided “nah, i’ma pass” about 20 minutes later). I have no idea what his plans are for minutes distribution, offensive pecking order, defensive strategy (man or zone?), or how he plans to put all these studs in a position to maximize their talents. I think everyone just kind of assumes he will…and that he can’t possibly be as lousy a tactician as Scott Brooks.

      Do we have any Gators insiders who could shed some light on how Donovan has used players of Ibaka’s ilk in the college game?

      • JB Gilpin

        JB Gilpin says:
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        @Matty: Hah. Yeah coach and scheme will be interesting, but no matter how you slice it, Kanter has to play a lot on that contract and will need help defense haha.

        Slim is the Gators fan! Other than Horford and Noah I don’t know the Gators bigs that well. There was that dude with a french sounding name I think is still there…

        • Adam

          Adam says:
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          @JB Gilpin: I’m a noles fan, but I love Donovan. The offense is going to likely relegate Ibaka to purely spot up 3pt shooting. Good for threes, bad for FG%. Donovan runs a spread pick and roll offense, which is going to really help Westy and Kanter, while also spacing for KD. Kanter is excellent in both the pick and roll, and the pick and pop. Ibaka can only pop, and his terrible completion percentage on the pick and roll bears this out. Gallagher on rotoworld actually just wrote an article with the numbers: http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/nba/56670/47/which-brook%22

        • ByeFelica says:
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          @JB Gilpin: Your Iblocka obsession has reached a dangerous level bruh. haha

  4. Nick says:
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    When you own both in Dynasty though, life is good!! Haha

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @Nick: True say, brother. Especially dangerous if they carry dual PF/C eligibility in your league. And at 26, both guys still have a good chunk of “prime” left in them, good health provided.

  5. Hoffa says:
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    Another great issue in the series. cant wait for the next ones!

    Im sure this will help alot of people out when they are torn between the two come draft day. I know, itll help me.

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @Hoffa: Thanks, Hoffa. I appreciate that.

      Unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to write all the “Jump Ball” articles that I’d like to. When I started brainstorming pairings to feature I couldn’t believe how many just started flowing off the top of my head. I took a look at the draft results from JB’s early RCL that I was lucky to be a part of and at so many points in that draft I was thinking – “man, that’s a tough call right there, I’m not sure if I want X or Y in that spot.”

      You (and any other commenters) are always welcome to hit me on Twitter (@moneyballmatty) if you’ve got a pairing that you want to bounce some ideas back and forth on.

  6. Dante Green says:
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    Ibaka has my vote. Hah I agree with everything you said, improvement in both FG and BLK for him this year. I got my eyes on Gobert in the 2nd rd, but if he’s off the board, Ibaka will be my next priority! Hah

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @Dante Green: Well, it’s always nice to hear that I’m not nuts (i.e. a commenter agrees with everything I said!)…

      FWIW, Ibaka went at 2.10 in our RCL (one pick after Blake) and I think that’s a great spot for him. I think he’s going to have a tough time posting first round value with all the horses in OKC’s stable, but with good health I don’t think there’s much downside risk with a pick around 20. He just feels like one of those guys that is going to fall somewhere from 15-25 at season’s end and that’s perfectly fine with a second round investment. “Safe” picks aren’t sexy, but cashing a winners check sure is!

      • ByeFelica says:
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        I’m taking Frenchy over both of them if he’s still on the [email protected]Matty:

        • Matty

          Matty says:
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          @ByeFelica: Absolutely. I think Gobert has top-8 upside if he can tighten up the FT stroke a bit and bump the points up with slightly higher usage. I don’t really see that upside from Blake, and unless Serge can reclaim his 3+ BPG numbers from a few seasons ago, he won’t quite crack first round value either.

  7. ujiri prokorov says:
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    there probably won’t be a jump ball for this one.. but if you had to quickly choose.. 14 team 9Cat H2H Cat league: Gobert or Whiteside? And/Or top 5 Bigs (C) to shoot for (not including ADavis)..
    Thanks.. I trust your gut instincts as much as the stats..

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @ujiri prokorov: Hey Ujiri – thanks for reading and commenting.

      Gobert over Whiteside all day, every day for me. Whiteside probably shouldn’t be considered until the late-third at the earliest. I feel better about him in the fourth though.

      My top-5 non-Brow bigs are: 1) DMC, 2) Rudy, 3) Horford, 4) Vuc, 5) MGasol….that’s for the more “true centers” though. So not counting guys like Ibaka, Blake, Sapper, et al.

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