Previous “Jump Ball” articles:
9/26 – Kawhi Leonard v Jimmy Butler
TALE OF THE TAPE
|BLAKE GRIFFIN||SERGE IBAKA|
|Los Angeles Clippers||Team||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|PF, C||Position (Y! Eligibility)||PF, C|
|41st||9-Cat Rank (Total Value)||36th|
|28th||9-Cat Rank (Per Game)||18th|
|35.2||Minutes Per Game||33.1|
|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 GRIFFIN||SERGE IBAKA|
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!