This is a continuation of my preview of each important player outside of LeBron and Durant in this year’s 2012 NBA Finals.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
PF – Serge Ibaka: With Defensive Player of the Year recipient Tyson Chandler not even able to make the All-NBA Defensive Team this past season, Ibaka certainly has to question why he didn’t win the award when he made it to the team. The 22 year old player known as either Iblaka, for his Mutombo-like shot-blocking skills, or Air Congo, for his emphatic dunking, has more reason to prove as to why he should have been this year’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year awardee. However, I doubt that that is still lingering in his mind as he has a great opportunity to win something bigger and something individual awards can compare to. Chandler himself might even agree as he grabbed that opportunity Ibaka has now in last year’s NBA Finals against the Heat. In the playoffs, Ibaka has been averaging 3.3 blocks per game which included a 4.0 blocks per game average through 5 games against the Los Angeles Lakers who hold two of the best big men in the league right now in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Ibaka hasn’t been doing bad so far in the playoffs on the offensive end as well as he has been averaging 10.7 points per game. Lately, I personally see Ibaka the same way I see Udonis Haslem, who I will discuss in a bit, right now. Why? Well, for one thing, he’s not the teams main scorer or but when all things go wrong or when the Thunder scorers are pressured, Ibaka will be the guy take that pressure off of them by making plays for himself. Like Haslem, Ibaka has been able to consistently knock down the mid-range baseline jump shot which is Haslem’s sweet spot on the floor. In the Finals, Ibaka will need to be smart defensively as Bosh will probably try to take him outside the paint to open lanes for the 3-time league MVP and the 2006 NBA Finals MVP.
PF – Udonis Haslem: There’s not really much to say about how important and how loyal Udonis Haslem been to the Miami Heat franchise. In his 8 years being in the NBA, Haslem has only played for one team and one team he loves. And the team and the fans certainly love him back as well. In 2010, after LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join forces with American Airlines Arena homeowner, Dwyane Wade, everyone in Miami and everyone on the Heat organization wanted Haslem to stay with the team. Of course, Haslem accepted the offer to stay. Why wouldn’t he? Another opportunity to win an NBA championship with not only Dwyane Wade this time and a bunch of old guys (Payton, Shaq, Walker) but with a group built for the future or the long-run. Haslem, much like teammate Joel Anthony and opponent Serge Ibaka, is a gritty hard working big man in the paint. Nothing comes easy when Haslem is in the way. He can block your shots, he can make you work on the boards, and most of all he will take charges from any drivers. With Westbrook seemingly always on the attack and in full power, Haslem’s presence in the paint will be key to force an offensive foul turnover on the Thunder. Outside of his defense, Haslem, as I stated earlier in Ibaka’s paragraph, is a baseline jumpshooter and the guy that may probably be the 4th option for the Heat on the offensive end. LeBron and Wade are also known for their tremendous passing skills and Haslem will be one guy they’ll look for that open shot or for a dunk. Haslem will need to be ready, and I believe he will be as he has always been. Don’t be amazed if LeBron or Wade or even Bosh won’t take the final shot but would pass it off to Udonis. He can make it. He knows he can. I know he can.