Ibaka's offensive rhythm bad news for rest of NBA

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Ibaka's offensive rhythm bad news for rest of NBA

Serge Ibaka is beginning to find his rhythm on offense, and thats bad news for the rest of the NBA.

The 6-foot-10 power forward, who scored 14 or more points in just 11 of 66 games last year, has now done so in three straight for the Thunder after a 21-point effort in a 97-91 win over the Bulls Thursday night.

Ibaka wasted no time getting going against Chicago, scoring nine points in the first quarter, including three made baskets in successive possessions midway through the opening period.

He even hit a 3-pointer, his first of the season and third of his career, to help the Thunder stay close to a Bulls team that shot nearly 58 percent in the first quarter.

Guys can get hot, especially if theyre getting a number of shots up, Taj Gibson said. We were closing out to him, but he got an easy-going pace real early the way his jump shot was flowing early, and he just played a phenomenal game.

Ibaka has always had the talent offensively -- he averaged 9.1 points per game last year -- and range to hit from 15-feet out, but the last two years has had to pick and choose his scoring opportunities wisely while watching Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant go to work.

It seems this year may be different. James Harden is gone, and while Kevin Martin replaces Harden in the sixth man role, it feels as though Ibaka can be the third scorer in Oklahoma City. He attempted 15 shots, one off his career-high, and has now attempted at least seven shots in all five games. His 10.2 shot attempts per game in 2012 is well-above his 6.6 attempts-per-game average entering the season.

He said extra work in the gym on his offensive game this offseason has paid dividends, and people are beginning to notice.

My teammates did a great job finding me, trusting me and getting me the ball when I was open because they know I work on my shot any time during practice, Ibaka said. I keep working in practice and I keep showing my teammates and coaches I can do it. Thats why it gives me confidence.

Ibakas offensive night didnt take away anything from his defense, either. He still managed to grab nine rebounds and block four shots in 37 minutes, helping to hold the Bulls to 34 points in the paint.

In his fourth season in the NBA, Ibaka is still just 23 years old. That talent as a complete player is starting to round out at the perfect time for the Thunder, as they continue to try and mesh without Harden. If Ibaka continues to shoot like he has been through five games, that transition period should go much smoother.

He didnt do much in the second and third quarters, but stayed efficient by scoring six points of 2-of-4 shooting and grabbing three offensive rebounds. He then proceeded to score four points in the final quarter on 1-of-2 shooting (and two free throws), capping off a brilliant night as a No. 3 scorer against a feisty Bulls front court.

He can score around the basket and he can score around the perimeter, he can even shoot 3s, head coach Scott Brooks said. Serge is a good player. Hes not only a defensive guy, he can score.

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Miguel Montero is out and Victor Caratini is in.

The Cubs made a shakeup at catcher Wednesday and will have to forge the last half of the 2017 season without the presence of veteran Montero, who has 1,149 MLB games under his belt and was hitting .286 with an .805 OPS this year.

But Montero talked his way out of town and Caratini is the immediate choice for a replacement behind starting backstop Willson Contreras.

[Where it all went wrong with Miguel Montero and the Cubs]

Caratini is a 23-year-old switch-hitter whom the Cubs acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2014 as part of the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell deadline deal. The Braves initially selected Caratini in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Miami-Dade College.

The Puerto Rican native has mostly played catcher (297 games) in his minor-league career, but has also seen time at first base (76 games) and third base (57 games). 

Caratini got his first taste of big-league spring training action this season, impressing with a .379 average and 1.175 OPS in 16 games (29 at-bats).

He is enjoying the best offensive season of his career in Triple-A Iowa, hitting .343 with a .384 on-base percentage and .923 OPS.

Caratini has already set a career high with eight home runs while clubbing 20 doubles and driving in 54 runs in 68 games. He also has only 40 strikeouts in 245 at-bats.

The Cubs named Caratini the organization's minor league player of the month in May after he drove in 17 runs in 24 games while hitting .366 with a .573 slugging percentage.

Caratini also should help the Cubs running game — an area where Montero was 0-for-31 in throwing out baserunners. Caratini has nabbed 28 percent of would-be basestealers in Iowa, a mark that is directly even with the MLB average.

Contreras is throwing out 34 percent of would-be basestealers in 2017.

Caratini figures to be the short-term answer for the Cubs at catcher given the organzation doesn't have many other options. Kyle Schwarber has not been a viable option behind the plate after recovering from major knee surgery that sapped almost his entire 2016 season. Taylor Davis — a 27-year-old catcher/infielder — is currently on the disabled list and has yet to make his MLB debut.

Where it all went wrong for Cubs and Miguel Montero

Where it all went wrong for Cubs and Miguel Montero

WASHINGTON – The Cubs swiftly reacted to Miguel Montero’s jaw-dropping criticism of Jake Arrieta, dumping the veteran catcher the day after the Washington Nationals ran wild with seven stolen bases and exposed some of the issues within the visiting clubhouse.

You could read the writing on the wall Wednesday morning when Anthony Rizzo’s comments on his weekly WMVP-AM 1000 appearance went viral. An All-Star first baseman who is tight with management and picky about when he decides to speak up called out Montero as a “selfish player.”

In designating Montero for assignment – a source confirmed catcher Victor Caratini will also be promoted from Triple-A Iowa – the Cubs will have to eat roughly half of his $14 million salary in the final year of his contract. 

Montero’s biggest sin is that he no longer produces like the two-time All-Star he had been with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he developed a reputation for blunt honesty and a willingness to mentor young players. The Cubs wanted that edge when they traded for Montero at the 2014 winter meetings, part of a dramatic makeover that included signing ace pitcher Jon Lester to a $155 million megadeal.

Montero’s goofy “#WeAreGood” hashtag on Twitter became a symbol for a rising franchise and a loose team that didn’t care about the weight of history. 

But where Montero could be the spokesman in Arizona and wear the target on his back, a backup catcher can’t torch a Cy Young Award winner and the team’s running-game strategy when he is 0-for-31 and Contreras is throwing guys out 34 percent of the time.     

Montero welcomed Contreras and Kyle Schwarber to the big leagues, generously trying to help with their learning curve, even as they kept taking his playing time. Montero didn’t exactly have the same reaction to David Ross becoming a media darling and a crossover celebrity.

[RELATED: Miguel Montero sends classy goodbye to Cubs players and fans]

Montero already put himself in jeopardy in the immediate World Series aftermath, ripping manager Joe Maddon in a radio interview on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally.  

Montero couldn’t help himself, even after delivering a pinch-hit grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and driving in what turned out to be the winning run in the 10th inning against the Cleveland Indians in a World Series Game 7.

Montero wouldn’t bite his tongue late Tuesday night after a sloppy, frustrating 6-1 loss at Nationals Park. With a 39-38 record, several key players on the disabled list and a clubhouse far more complex than Maddon’s Woodstock visions, the Cubs are in crisis mode.   

“It really sucks because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in.

“If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”