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Signing Sebastian Telfair was a mistake

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We delve into the other options available to Sam Presti at the time, as well as how Telfair actually performed with the game on the line. The results aren't pretty!

Yep. Didn't work out well.
Yep. Didn't work out well.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

On July 15th, 2014, the Thunder signed Sebastian Telfair for the 2014-2015 season. On November 26th, 2014, after just 16 games of service, Telfair was cut loose. In his place is Ish Smith, now the defacto third string point guard.

A lot of Thunder fans have already probably made up their mind about Sebastian Telfair, especially considering all of the losing the Thunder have been doing. But before we rush to any quick judgements based on memories of badly missed threes or matador defense, let's take a look at the facts. Who else was available? Furthermore, let's delve beyond his averages, and look into how Telfair actually performed when it really mattered.

What was the market?

Sebastian Telfair was signed to a 1 year deal at the minimum amount of salary allowed by the league. Here's a list of point guards who signed the same contract this off-season, and their respective stats as of November 27th.

pgminimumsalarytable

  • Telfair's biggest weakness at this point in his career is his poor shooting. Some might bring up the fact that Durant and Westbrook are gone as an excuse, but look at Donald Sloan and A.J. Price. Both managed better percentages in a similarly bad situation in Indiana.
  • Telfair's point production, despite his wily ability to get to the line, is rather mediocre. He's not as disastrously bad as some other Thunder players, but he's at least a step behind everyone but Ronnie Price in this area.
  • Telfair's assist to turnover ratio is good, but not great. Jose Juan Barea and Ronnie Price both managed better rates while also bringing more to the table. In other words, Barea can score and pass, Price can defend and pass, but Telfair can just pass. And less well.
  • Brooks, Barea, and Barbosa are all on very successful teams, while Sloan, both Prices, and Telfair are all on teams that struggle. It's somewhat reflected in their shooting percentages.
  • Out of the players who got at least 15 minutes a game, Telfair and Price are unarguably the worst.

Did Telfair win games?

I look at whether a player has helped a team win games in three ways. The first way is through their cumulative game stats. It's basically the most obvious way. You look at the box score and determine whether the player's contribution was positive in the context of the game. The second way to figure out whether a player has helped a team win is through lineups. Were they a part of successful lineup that gave the team a significant advantage? The last way to figure out whether a player has helped a team win is through key moments. Did they perform well when the game was on the line? We'll investigate all three.

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Looking through the box scores

One of the biggest problems for Sebastian Telfair this season was getting his game to work right on all levels. It always seemed that there was some sort of deficiency in his came that would constantly bother him, even during the times this team actually won. Take Telfair's November 1st game against Denver, where he registered 9 assists and 4 steals in an 11 point victory....while also shooting 2 of 11 from the floor and committing 5 fouls. Or how about Telfair's performance in the 11 point win against Sacramento on November 9th? There, Bassy scored 14 points, but only managed 2 assists to 2 turnovers.  Telfair basically repeated the same feat in a November 7th two point loss to Memphis, scoring 13 points but sporting a 1/3 assist to turnover ratio.

The closest you could come to a perfect game for Telfair is on the night he shot perfectly from the floor. Bassy's 18 points, 7 of 7 shooting, and 2 assists to no turnovers were essential in a 7 point loss to Denver on November 19th. Of course, the Thunder lost and Telfair had 4 fouls, so it wasn't totally ideal.

On the flip side, Telfair has had some nightmarish performances as well. 1 of 9 shooting in the season opener against Portland. 2 of 9 shooting in the three point loss to the Clippers on Halloween. 1 of 6 shooting in a seven point loss to the Bucks on Nov 11. 0 of 5 shooting in a seven point loss to the Pistons on Nov 14. It's worth noting that the last six games Telfair played didn't see his shooting percentage dip below 28%, so his missed shots gradually became less egregious.

Still, you can't deny the fact that Telfair has been a very major part of at least four losses. On the other hand, he was a major factor in the Denver and Sacramento wins. Combine that with all of the meh games and Telfair comes out as a net negative in this department.

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Lineups

Because of the Thunder's injury-riddled start to the season, the lineup page for this team is a mess. No one lineup has played more than 8 games in total, and the Thunder have played 16 games so far. There's not much to be gleaned from looking at such scattered data, so I took to manually scrolling through the Popcorn Machines of certain games to see whether Bassy was a part of lineups that triggered key runs. Here's what stood out....

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October 30th: 89-106 Loss to Portland

Telfair was on the floor for two big runs by the Blazers. One was an 8-1 run to start the second quarter, and the other was an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter.

November 7th: 89-91 Loss to Memphis

Telfair was on the floor for two separate runs by the Grizzlies. One was a 7-0 run to start the second, and the other was a crucial 6-1 run in the early fourth. Once Telfair is benched in the fourth, the Thunder go on a comeback rampage.

November 11th: 78-85 Loss to Milwaukee

Telfair was on the floor for a crucial 7-0 run by the Bucks in the early fourth. Once he exits, the Thunder are able to make up some of the deficit.

November 14th: 89-96 Loss to Detroit

Same story as Milwaukee. Telfair is on the floor while Detroit makes an early fourth quarter 7-0 run. He's benched, the Thunder start to come back.

November 18th: 81-98 Loss to Utah

Telfair was on the floor for a 15-2 run that the Jazz capped the third quarter off with. Telfair was pulled from the game and the Thunder were further blown away.

November 21st: 92-94 Loss to Brooklyn

Telfair was on the floor for four separate major Brooklyn runs. All of them were right around the quarter breaks.

November 26th: 97-82 Win against Utah

Surprisingly, Telfair was on the floor for two major runs in the first and fourth quarters.

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So, just by scanning the Popcorn Machine, we've pretty much confirmed that Telfair was a major part of the losses against Portland, Milwaukee, and Detroit. We've also aroused suspicions about his contributions to the Memphis game, the Brooklyn game, and the first Utah game. On the flip side, we've only found one tangibly positive contribution Telfair's made to a game. That was in the second go-round with Utah.

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Crunch Time Moments

The only two games where Sebastian Telfair saw significant real crunch time action were against the Clippers on October 30th and the Nuggets on November 19th. The Nuggets game is less significant because Telfair played a very auxiliary role. He was in the perimeter part of a 2-3 zone and made no egregious errors while also managing to hit a three. Big whoop.

The real crunch time affair for Telfair was in Los Angeles. But it wasn't pretty. Here's a play by play of Telfair's involvement in the last 6 minutes of the Clipper game.

  • 5:48- Telfair misses a technical free throw.
  • 4:43- Chris Paul catches Telfair around a high post Griffin screen and nails a tough mid-range floater.
  • 4:11- Sebastian Telfair switches with Perry Jones on defending Chris Paul. Jones successfully deters Paul twice.
  • 3:34- Telfair picks up J.J. Redick in transition. Redick receives a quick screen from DeAndre Jordan, who easily neutralizes Telfair's D. Redick tosses in the easy three.
  • 2:43- Telfair is given the ball at the top of the arc with seven seconds to shoot. He isolates against Chris Paul, who blocks him in mid-range.
  • 1:44- Telfair takes a quick screen from Steven Adams in transition and hits a three at the top of the arc.
  • 1:07- Telfair tries to throw a high-arcing screwball lob pass from the right top of the arc to the lower left block. Jamal Crawford intercepts it before it gets to Perry Jones III.
  • 0:53- Telfair gets a high screen from Adams and immediately streaks to the hoop. DeAndre Jordan meets him halfway and forces the miss.

That's about all she wrote. One made three, a few mistakes, and not a lot of raw talent. There's no question in my mind that Telfair earned the looks he was getting. Bassy had effectively managed the Thunder for a whopping 38 minutes in light of a surprise Westbrook injury. He hadn't been the leading scorer going into crunch time, but there was simply no one else to handle the ball. Still, when the rubber hit the road, Sebastian Telfair was not the answer against Chris Paul. He failed repeatedly on both ends, whether it be through a lack of talent or bad decision-making on his part.

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Conclusions

The Thunder could have done better than Sebastian Telfair. There were certainly better options on the market, especially considering what this team needs. Did it ever occur to Sam Presti that we might need a PG who's just a little bit of an offensive option? Especially considering that this PG might play next to names like Andre Roberson, Nick Collison, and Kendrick Perkins? Had the Thunder simply taken a flyer on someone like Brooks or Barea, someone who has actually proven themselves as a legitimate NBA force, they might be sitting here with three or four more wins today.

I really think this signing is just another example of the Thunder trying too hard to find diamonds in the rough. Think back on some of the other similar things that Presti has pulled in the past. The Thunder tried to capitalize on the rehabilitation of Shaun Livingston back in 2009. He struggled to find minutes behind Eric Maynor, before being cut only months later. Livingston would then go to Washington, where he eventually earned a starting spot. Or think about this year's draft, when Presti reached for an unknown name like Josh Huestis late in the first round. Both of Presti's moves there were rather low-risk, low-reward type moves. Here, it was a high-risk, low-reward move.

Why was signing a third-string point guard a high risk move? Simply because of the make-up of this team. Russell Westbrook is coming off of that crazy meniscus bullhonkey that we all know about. KD and Jeremy Lamb are literally the only other players on the roster capable of handling the ball. So any third string PG was bound to be crucial at some point, and pinning the Thunder's hopes on a point guard who never consistently proved himself over the course of several seasons in the NBA was a bad idea.

As an aside, I was a huge fan of Sebastian Telfair's game, and really enjoyed watching him play. I'll always miss the fake-out passes and amazing spinning layups. Whenever those plays happened, I had a friend who would always shout "streetball play of the night"! Undoubtedly, Telfair's got some unique skills that not even KD can reproduce. It's just unfortunate that they don't help Bassy win NBA Basketball games.

What are your thought's on Telfair's tenure with the Thunder? Drop a comment and let us know!