Thabo Sefolosha Can Play Offense? What's Up With That?

As we saw last night, Thabo Sefolosha has definitely improved his offense since last season. He's gone from being an almost complete non-factor to a regularly looked to option. Technically, he's only improved by one point per game overall, but the difference he's made in certain games has been phenomenal.

What's changed about his game this season? Well, for a first person perspective, let's take a look at this interview from Brian Davis from after last nights game (Via the Oklahoma City Thunder YouTube Channel):

Most of this is the typical fluff, but the first thing Thabo says really sticks out to me:

Exactly. I think it's uh, confidence you know. And we trust one another, and we've got confidence in ourself. And in a game like that, you can't think too much. You're open, you've gotta let it go and try to make plays for the team.

Confidence and trust. Those are he two things Thabo has gained heading into this season. Don't think I'm right? Take a look at that playoff series against the Lakers two seasons ago. Literally, he would sit wide open on the corner and be completely ignored by the rest of the team. He wouldn't even touch the ball offensively.

And last season? It wasn't much better. In the Western Conference Semi-Finals and Finals, he only gotten more than 20 minutes once, despite starting every game. His three point percentage was atrocious throughout the playoffs, as he hit only 15% of his attempts. Pretty much everything he got offensively came on the fast break.

Below: How he gained confidence and trust, whether skill played a factor, and whether he'll keep this up throughout the season!

So, how did he gain confidence? It's hard to get inside the mind of someone you don't know personally, especially if you don't have Jim Traber's truth serum handy. But if I had to point to one reason, I'd have to look at his time in the Euroleague. Just take a look at these two highlight reels.

Thabo Sefolosha vs SLUC Nancy | Thabo Sefolosha vs Olympiakos (Both Via TheDrizzleIsLocal on YouTube)

Is this the same Sefolosha that we saw in the previous two years? It hardly seems like it. Sure, he's doing the things that Sefolosha always does, like play hard defense and get tough rebounds. But offensively, he was playing like Westbrook. Sefolosha was facing up his defender, fooling him a bit with the dribble, and knocking it down in his opponents face. He was driving it down the lane and scoring right in the heart of the opponents' defense.

I know, he was playing against "subpar" European competition. And I doubt he crosses over Kobe Bryant for a step-back three any time soon. But some games against easier opponents might have been exactly what he needed to light a fire under his own butt. To give him the brash confidence and perhaps a bit of the recklessness that he used to have.

How did he gain trust?

This might sound harsh, but he gained trust through the failure of others. The prime example is during the Grizzlies game back in December, when Westbrook yelled at Sefolosha and told him to "Shoot the fucking ball." Of course, nothing should be made of this in terms of the chemistry of the team, like TNT was trying to do. But it does remind us of Westbrook's early struggles. He made zero shots from the field that night, and was having a real struggle getting into the Thunder's offensive flow in earlier games. Sefolosha was a perfect four of four that night, and Westbrook realized that Sefolosha had the hot hand and the skill to shoot the ball regularly. So much for Russell Westbrook the ballhog, eh?

While the statement was off-hand, it symbolizes the fact that the Thunder now trust Sefolosha to shoot. They recognize that the normal offensive pieces can have an off-night or be guarded heavily, and that Sefolosha is there to take the pressure off, not just languish there as a forgotten statue. He's getting more looks from three, and his teammates are willing to let him have the ball within the arc.

Was any of it an improvement in skill?

Obviously, players spend a large amount of time working on their games, since it's their job to do so. But I think the impact of a change in skill isn't really what's at work here. Just take a look at what he did during his Rookie season in the first playoff game of his career (Via Todaloop on YouTube):

The offensive plays he pulls off here are things that take more skill than what he did against Boston, and they're things that I couldn't imagine Thabo executing as recently as last year. His shot's arc is still high, his fast break skills are still beyond compare, and his defense actually looks a bit more stingy.

Okay, so Sefolosha's had a few lucky games. Can he sustain this play throughout the season?

It depends on what you mean by "sustain". Sefolosha hasn't been consistent so far, as he was hampered by a minor injury around the New Year and there have been a couple of games where the opportunities just weren't there. But, when called upon, he has consistently offered an efficient offensive game.

There's no way in heck he finishes the season with a 60% three point percentage, and he'll never be the type of guy who can create points like Harden, Durant, or Westbrook. But I do think that we will continue to see an improved Sefolosha this season, one who makes the opposing team pay for ignoring him on defense. And I think that's really all we can ask from the fellow.

What do you think of Sefolosha's play so far? Do you have any other reasons for his success? Vote in the poll, post a comment!
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