On the surface, one would think things are going fine for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
They sit third in the Western Conference and behind Russell Westbrook's seven triple-doubles, they managed to win eight games on the bounce through March.
That run came to an end following their defeat to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night, with Kevin Durant missing.
Although the Thunder have remained one of the most dangerous sides in the NBA in recent years with the duo of Westbrook and Durant, and the emerging James Harden before that, the climate of the league has somewhat changed with the continued success of the Golden State Warriors.
'Small-ball', which requires big men to stretch the floor and has a heavy emphasis on perimeter shooting, has taken over the league in light of Stephen Curry's and Klay Thompson's dominance for the NBA champions.
The 'Splash Bros' are considered pioneers of the new movement, which is far removed from the dominant paint players like Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the latter of whom is the leading scorer in NBA history.
Despite the Thunder's ability to hang with the elite and carry a genuine title threat, their power forward Serge Ibaka has been speaking about the certain growing pains small-ball can have on big men athletes like himself.
“I’m gonna tell you the truth, it’s hard sometimes when you play hard, you play you’re (butt off),” Ibaka swore, before apologising and rephrasing. “You play so hard on defence, then you come to offence and you’re going to be out there in the corner for 4, 5, 6, sometimes 8 minutes and you don’t touch the ball. We human, man. It’s hard.”
It's easy to see Ibaka's point here. At 6'10", the Congo-born power forward is a premier board grabber and decent shot-blocker, but he is currently exhibiting his lowest average of points per game in four years.
That's quite understandable in many ways; Westbrook and Durant are bound to be the primary scoring options in the Thunder's starting unit. Although Ibaka is certainly a two-way player, the physical and mental strain of bombing up and down the court to simply take up a position must be exhausting when the rock passes the big man by.
Not only that, but big men who have enjoyed pivotal roles in offence previously aren't likely to enjoy a perceived relegation to simple floor-spacer.
As noted earlier, Westbrook has been lighting the stat sheets up as of late and in the same way Andre Iguodala or Andrew Bogut play a vital role in creating the space for Curry and Thompson to operate, Ibaka is a big reason the Thunder guard can thrive.
Is basketball evolving beyond the big man?