Defense wins Western Conference Championships. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Name: Thabo Sefolosha
Thabo Sefolosha, a Swiss-born 6'7" guard known primarily for defense, began his professional career at the age of 17 with Tege Riviera Basket in Switzerland. Later, Sefolosha was recruited to play of rate French under-21 team where he had moderate success in leading the Chalonnaise team to a third place finish in the French league. After encountering contract disputes with Chalonnaise, he signed with Angelico Biella of Italy where he played through 2006.
In a somewhat surprising move at the time, Sefolosha was drafted with the 13th pick in the 2006 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and then traded to the Chicago Bulls. Well regarded for his natural athletic ability and defensive skill set, Thabo stayed on with the Bulls through half of the 2009 season when he was traded to the Thunder for a draft pick that Chicago used to select Taj Gibson. Sefolosha was named to the NBA's All Defensive Second Team in the 2009-2010 season. Outside of basketball, Christine Sefolosha, Thabo's mother, is an internationally known artist.
Going into the 2011-2012 season, the thought was that Sefolosha stood a decent chance of being supplanted in the starting lineup by James Harden. His defensive play in 2010-2011 was solid, proving to be a consistent defender against the bigger swing players in the NBA like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. His weak point on defense was guarding against dribble-drive penetration, where he struggled to stay in front of quicker players at times. The more significant weakness in his game is clearly on offense. Given the ironic nickname "Selfishlosa", Thabo rarely took more than a few shots a game. In fact, his stats for shots attempted reached into the double digits only once in the 2010-2011 season. He has a smooth three-point shot, but overall he's something of a streaky shooter. For the 2011-2012 season, the reasonable expectation was to continue to play consistent defense and work to improve on his offensive production by taking more open shots when the situation calls for it.
Regular Season Grade: C/Incomplete
Sefolosha missed a large chunk of the regular season with a tendon injury to his right foot and it made a definite impact on the defensive end for the Thunder. Thabo injured his foot after logging 11 minutes against Golden State on January 27th and would not return until March 15th when the Thunder went up against the Nuggets. Having missed all of February and most of March, it's difficult to give a regular season grade. Be that as it may, Sefolosha had his moments for the better and otherwise prior to and after the injury. In December's biggest game for the Thunder, the latter would prove to be apparent with a zero for zero night on offense. In contrast to the aforementioned goose egg, a 2-2 from 3 and 8 point performance on opening night against Orlando and 2-3 from 3 with 12 points versus Phoenix could be considered nice offensive showings from Sefolosha.
January's offensive stats were equally off and on. In games against Boston, Memphis, and San Antonio Sefolosha's shooting touch appeared to be on. He hit his regular season high of 19 points against Boston and went a perfect 4-4 for field goals and 3-3 from behind the arc against Memphis. Two days prior to Memphis, Thabo had another perfect night from 3 point range, going 2-2 while hitting 3 out of his 5 field goal attempts. Other nights in January weren't as successful. A pair of back to back games against the Rockets combined for a 1-6 field goals and 0-2 from 3. There were also goose eggs against New Jersey (0-2 field goals) and New York (0-2 field goals, 0-1 from 3) to go along with a stinker of an offensive display against New Orleans before his ill fated game at Golden State. After returning to the lineup in mid March, the offensive inconsistency was consistent. There were a handful of good games, some okay performances, and a few less than stellar shooting nights. On the positive end, the March 18th game against the Trailblazers was a great one within context, notching a perfect 3-3 shooting night from 3 point range along with 4-5 from the field for 11 points.
Known as one of the league's premier defenders, Thabo's absence due to injury was clearly felt on that end of the floor. In the month of February, playing without Sefolosha in the lineup, opposing backcourts had 44.9 points per game, going 16.5-38.9 for a 42.5% shooting average from the field. In January and April, two months where Sefolosha was in the lineup, the statistics were noticeably better. Opponent's backcourts scored 36.1 points per game, going 12.7-33.0 with a 38.6% field goal average in January. In April, the Thunder backcourt would give up 38.8 points per game, allowing an average shooting night of 14.4-34.6; 41.4% average. Thabo's largely anemic offensive game, due to inconsistent/streaky shooting and the hesitation to take shots in general, had a few bright spots but was mostly unimpressive. His impact on defense is, more often than not, anything but unimpressive. Defense is a hard thing to quantify, but it's safe to say that he's among the league's best for his position when healthy.
Post-Season Grade: B (Overall)
Round 1 vs. Mavericks: B-
he series against the Mavericks was a respectable but unspectacular one for Sefolosha. The bright spot was a 2-2 from inside the arc and 1-1 outside for 5 points in 18 minutes of play. Game 3 was exceedingly unproductive, going 1-6 from the field and 1-3 from 3 point range. In game two, he would only attempt, and miss, one shot. Expecting Sefolosha to light up the scoreboard for an average of around 10 points a game is a quixotic adventure at best, but it would have been nice to see him take advantage of open looks when he had them. His defense was steady against Jason Terry and Vince Carter. Though neither Carter or Terry played vital roles on offense for the Mavs, Sefolosha played fairly well against them
Round 2 vs. Lakers: B
Being tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant, much less being asked to try and shut him down, is not an enviable task. Aside from game 5 where Bryant put up 42 points, Sefolosha put out a solid effort in minimizing the damage that Kobe is apt to inflict. Thabo's game was largely one dimensional, not offering up much more than stout perimeter defense. His offensive production was predictably streaky with good nights in games 1 and 2, but that gave way to a trio of paltry offerings in the final three games of the series.
Round 3 vs. Spurs: B+
This series will largely be remembered for the improbable comeback from a 0-2 deficit sparked by an equally improbable hero. Sefolosha's first two games weren't really anything to write home about, going 3-7 and 1-3 from 3 point range with 7 points. Game 1 did feature 4 steals by Thabo, which was nice. The stat line for game 2 was fairly putrid and populated with zeros. It was a 1-4 night with 2 points and 1 rebound. Things changed dramatically in game 3, but we'll go more in depth with that in the "Most Memorable Game" thoughts. To put it briefly, Thabo Sefolosha saved the Thunder's season and put up 19 points (a rarity not seen since January 16th in a game against the Celtics) in the process. His defense against Tony Parker was spectacular in game 3 and he would continue to play well on that end for the remaining 3 games. His offense in the remaining games wasn't as gaudy as his 19 point game 3 performance. To be fair, 19 points isn't gaudy unless it's in the context of Sefolosha. Then it's flashier than a Voltron made up of Donald Trump, Puff Daddy, and the entire population of Oklahoma City's Gaillardia neighborhood. Game 3 was the equivalent of Oprah's car giveaway from a few years ago. YOU get some offense, and YOU get a 3 pointer, and YOU get a field goal!!! Everyone was very exited until they realized that they still had to pay the tag/title/tax on that free car. The coming series against the Heat would be that tag/title/tax.
Finals vs. Heat: B-
After an impressive WCF, Sefolosha was given the assignment of guarding Dwyane Wade and LeBron James when he wasn't guarding Wade. Thabo did well enough in game 1, with Wade going 7-19 from the field and turning the ball over 3 times. On offense, Thabo was respectable in scoring 9 points against his season average of 4.8 points per game. His shooting from beyond the arc was on the unfortunate end of streaky, going 0-2. When tasked with guarding James in the 4th quarter, he limited "King James" to 7 points on 2-6 shooting. Game 2 was a bit of a step backwards. He defended James well, but LeBron wasn't phased and went on to score 32 points for the evening in the Thunder's first of a conga-line of Finals losses to come.
Defense remained mostly staunch in game 3, but the one dimensional aspect of Thabo's game would pop up with a 1-7 3 point shooting show. Game 3 also featured two of the more memorable moments in the series for Sefolosha. One was very cool. The other made grown men cry like the world had just lost all of it's puppies and ice cream. With 2 minutes left, Thabo's better moment came when he picked Wade's pocket and promptly threw down a reverse dunk over him. Then the other moment came. With 15 seconds left and some hope remaining to pull off an improbable comeback from the 4 point deficit, Sefolosha's errant pass was intercepted by Wade and any hope of a Thunder win was gone.
Game 4 would see a drop in defense and a guy wrenching missed opportunity when Sefolosha's game tying 3 pointer missed it's mark with 1:05 left to play. Game 5 was mostly silent, seeing only 9 minutes of action from Thabo and no points to speak of. Despite the disappointing game 4 from Sefolosha, it seemed to be a strange decision to limit his minutes in game 5.
Most Memorable Game: Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals vs. San Antonio
After Tony Parker lit up the Thunder with 34 points in game 2, things were looking pretty bleak for the Thunder. Down 0-2 in the conference finals, the season was speeding down the road and Thelma and Louis were behind the wheel. Cue the theme song to tv's "The A*Team". Among the Thunder starters, and even some of the reserves, Sefolosha would be one of the last players you would tab to save the season. And then, in heroic fashion, he did just that. As mentioned, Parker had 34 points in game 2. He also had 8 assists. In game 2, the "NBA Live '09" cover athlete attempted 21 shots . These are all very lovely stats posted by the Frenchman with one of the smuggest looks in the NBA. He may be a lovely man, I've never met him, but he can come off as smug when on the court. That and there's the flopping, but let's get back on track. Compared to his 21 shots in game 2, he only attempted 12 in game 3. He hit 76% of those 21 in game 2. He hit 50% in game 3. Still high, but nowhere near the 76% from the prior game. His 16 points were considerably lower than the 34 points from game 2, as were his 5 assists from game 3 when put up against his 8 from game 2. He also turned the ball over 5 times. This was all due to a change in the game plan by Scott Brooks, moving Sefolosha over to cover Parker. It worked with all the spectacular pomp of Rumble Stiltskin with a t-shirt cannon. To some it was terrifying, to the people of Oklahoma City it was wonderful. Thabo Sefolosha was the NBA 2k to Parker's NBA Live, and a Western Conference Championship along with a trip to the NBA Finals was made possible because of it.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
It was a big moment at the time, but it could have been epic had the game not ended the way it had. Even so, it features both offense and defense from Thabo. At the same time. It's a beautiful thing. So beautiful that you can see Russell Westbrook celebrate the moment by wildly swinging at what he thinks to be an invisible humanoid carrot like he's just smoked a pound of bath salts. It's always fun to see Westrbook flip out in a good way, and we owe a debt to Thabo Sefolosha for making that thappen. It was a cornucopia of short lived awesome, but for that moment it was spellbinding.
Prior to the 2011-2012 season, many expected to see James Harden jump into the starting rotation at Sefolosha's expense. When Sefolosha went down with a foot injury for a big chunk of the season, he also proved why he's an important part of the starting lineup. The Thunder's defense while he was out proved to be of a lesser quality, especially early on in games. Given this, I would expect to see Sefolosha remain in the starting lineup with similar minutes. I'd like to see him attempt more shots and maintain a better level of consistency on offense, but I'd also like to have a team of Sherpas to intern for me. Both would be great. Neither are very realistic. It's possible, but don't get your hopes up. I think there's a chance for Sefolosha to be more assertive on offense and take some open shots every now and then rather than passing the ball, but I'm expecting something closer to this past season. 10 points a game would be nice, but I can live with continued defensive acumen and a modest improvement on offense.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations
Other Player Grades:
Will we see a boost in Sefolosha's offensive production in 2012-2013?
Yes, but only slightly. He'll raise his 3.7fga average to 4.7fga per game. (20 votes)
No, he'll remain skittish with the ball and streaky from behind the arc. (9 votes)
Yes. In a game against the Clippers in January, Sefolosha will have 35 points and after hitting a 3 in 2nd Q he'll burst into flames and scream "HE'S ON FIRE!". Craig Sager will have night terrors for the next year. (11 votes)
No. His numbers won't post significant jumps, but he'll be a little more consistent in attempts. (27 votes)
67 total votes