Today we look at Thunder starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha has been the starting shooting guard since Day 1 and is held out as the team's perimeter defensive stopper.
Sefolosha is a Swiss-born player who began his professional career as a 17 year old playing for Tege Riviera Basket. He was later recruited to play for the French under-21 team and had moderate success in leading the Chalonnaise team to a third place finish in the French league. Due to a contract dispute, Sefolosha left the French team and signed with the Italian team Angelico Biella, where he played through 2006.
It came as a great surprise to Sefolosha that he was actually drafted in the NBA's 2006 draft at #13 by the Philadelpha 76ers and traded to the Chicago Bulls. He was sought after for his natural athletic skills as well as his defensive prowess. Sefolosha stayed with Chicago until mid-way through the 2009 season, when he was traded to the Thunder. OKC acquired him for a draft pick that they acquired via Denver, and the Bulls used the draft pick to select Taj Gibson.
Sefolosha's greatest individual honor in his career so far is his being named to the 2009-10 All-defensive Second Team.
The 2009-10 version of the Thunder was built upon the notion of defense. Offensively, they had Kevin Durant and precious little else, so Scott Brooks knew that his team had to commit to defensive principles to stay competitive. In the middle of this emphasis was Sefolosha, who was and is the Thunder's best on-ball defender. He is strong, thick, and has good defensive fundamentals to shut down the opposition's swing players and shooting guards. The Thunder expected Sefolosha to continue in the team's defensive mindset and play the other team's best swing players while further developing his cautious offensive game.
Regular Season Grade: C
Sefolosha's contribution to the team is primarily defined as defense, because he is the rare shooting guard who does not actually like to shoot. If you consider his game log for this past season, you can see that he attempted double-digit shot attempts only once (and that was a game in which Kevin Durant was out with injury). It is unfortunate that Sefolosha does not look for his shot more, because you can see by his statistics that he is a solid 3-point shooter and exercises good discretion over his shot selection. Over the course of the season there were several opportunities for him to get into the offensive mindset, and Sefolosha did play well in games such as against the Rockets on 12/15, where he scored a season high 15 points off of 5-8 shooting. I'm sure the Thunder did not expect or require much from Thabo on the offensive end of the court, but it did seem like there was room there for him to exert his offensive game a little bit. When he did so, he found success.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sefolosha was a much more consistent player, but even then his effectiveness was limited. Sefolosha's best attribute is to defend against the big, strong swing players of the NBA - Gerald Walace, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant, to name a few. Against those guys, Thabo is very good at bodying up against them, playing with his defensive positioning and not his hands, and keeping them away from the rim. However, the downside of his game is that he struggled in staying in front of the players who wanted to use dribble-drive penetration. In fact, the entire team struggled for a long time in this area, so it is difficult to say whether Sefolosha was a cause or a byproduct of the defensive breakdowns. Regardless of what the cause was, Sefolosha went through a stretch where he struggled mightily to keep up.
All told, when Sefolosha was healthy, he served as a valable cog in the defensive machine, even earning high praise from Kendrick Perkins when the team began to turn things around. Even if we do not always see his contribution on the court, it is important to note that his teammates do. Even so, it became more and more apparent as the season wore on that the Thunder could not endure Sefolosha's offensive limitations for prolonged periods of time, and he did not quite live up to what his team needed him to be offensively on a consistent basis.
Post-Season Grade: D+
When the post-season rolls around, evey team's weakness gets exposed, and teams repeatedly went after Sefolosha's weaknesses on offense. While he had some success in the Denver series due to the Nuggets' guard-oriented offense, by the time the second round rolled around Sefolosha saw his effectiveness greatly diminished. The defensively superior Grizzlies team treated Sefolosha like an afterthought, either putting their weakest defender on him, or not even guarding him at all. Sefolosha needed to take advantage at such an opportunity, but he seldom did so. As the Memphis series wore on, his limitations became more and more costly, highlighted by the team's Game Four meltdown. By the end, Sefolosha had by and large given way to James Harden, who was more comfortable attacking a offense with both his passing and shooting.
In the Dallas series, the Mavs used the Memphis blueprint to continuously exploit the Thunder whenever Sefolosha was on the court. Thabo attempted more than three shots in a game only once, which proved the Dallas strategy effective. Sefolosha's limitations were highlighted the strongest in OKC's Game Four collapse, where he got extended minutes due to Harden's fouling out. Despite the opportunity, Sefolosha could not help prevent the Thunder from losing a big 4th quarter lead late, and in Game Five Thabo only played 14 ineffective minutes where he did not attempt a single shot.
Most Memorable Game:
I think that Sefolosha's most memorable game actually came in the Thunder's loss to the Lakers on 2/27. Even though the effort resulted in a loss, Sefolosha played 25 minutes of dogged defense against Kobe and held him to 17 points on 8-22 shooting. It was an early sign that the Thunder had a player they needed to contend with Bryant if and when he came calling in the playoffs. Alas.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
Sefolosha's highlight reel was pretty limited this season, but this sequence was a great example of what he could be for the Thunder. It was a great combination of defense, awareness, and finishing ability on the other end of the court.
Sefolosha will continue to be an important cog in the Thunder machine, and at a shade over $3 million per year is quite affordable. However, I think we saw the future of the Thunder starting five at the end of the Dallas series, and Thabo is probably not going to be part of it. With Perkins on the court, not having a viable threat at the #3 spot becomes too great a detriment to the overall offensive scheme. I think Sefolosha will end up becoming a bench player behind Harden next season, and his role will be to provide added defense to the second unit and spell Harden when necessary.
Sefolosha needs to continue to round out his offensive game so that he can become a consistent perimeter threat. When I look at him, I think of Memphis guard Tony Allen and how he's worked himself into an offensive threat to go along with his defensive ability.
A final random clip featuring Tony Allen, paying tribute to the Sefolosha's of the world:
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations