Zach Lowe of Grantland is my favorite NBA writer, and he wrote a terrific piece today on the value of finding a 3 tool role player like that of Shane Battier. He mentions numerous different players including the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha:
Sefolosha emerged as sort of a dividing line in nominating New Age Battiers during talks with executives around the league. He can clearly guard both wing positions credibly, and he has shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range in each of the last two seasons. The folks who don't think Sefolosha quite belongs argue that he has shot that well only because he limits his 3-point tries to the very best attempts - wide-open looks that emerge because his defender is far way, monitoring the activities of two of the very best offensive players in the entire world. What would Sefolosha shoot from 3-point range, the skeptics wonder, if he played for the Bobcats?
But I'm granting Sefolosha membership into the New Age Battier crowd. He got friskier this season, upping his 3-point attempts from 2.8 per 36 minutes to 4.2, not too far from "gunner" territory. The personnel folks who agree on Sefolosha's membership also agree he is worth more to the Thunder, and to any NBA team, than his current contract, which pays him $3.6 million this season and $3.9 million next season. But he's only more valuable than that if he really can hit all three above benchmarks, and if players who can do so are rare.
I agree with Lowe that Thabo deserves to be in this "Shane Battier" crowd because of his growing ability to shoot the ball. Sefolosha has proven his ability to guard over the years consistently drawing the opposing team's best guard. But it is improved shooting that has boosted him into that upper echelon. Lowe is accurate however in pointing out that Thabo benefits greatly from playing with two legitimate superstars in Westbrook and Durant. He very rarely takes difficult shots, as his looks come more off of drive and kicks where he is left essentially wide open.
However, he is doing exactly what is needed from him for the Thunder. His offense has picked up like Lowe points out, largely because of the departure of James Harden. Sefolosha's points per 100 possessions are up from 109 last season to 121 this season. And moving forward during the playoffs his defense against James Harden, and possibly someone like Manu Ginobli will be vitally important. But even more than his defense he will be needed offensively to carry an even bigger load without Westbrook.
And just as Lowe points out, possibly the biggest advantage of Sefolosha is monetary value. The Thunder are getting a steal at $3.6 million dollars for Sefolosha. His ability to defend and knock down an open three and with the minutes he logs. It would be very difficult for the Thunder to go out and get a player of his caliber for that price.
So if Thabo wants to be as valuable to the Thunder as Shane Battier is to the current NBA champs he will have a chance to prove that the rest of the playoffs.
Who knows - Thabo might even face the real Battier again come June.