Sefolosha’s Leadership, Shooting a Big Boost
Thabo Sefolosha is one of the extremely important glue guys on Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder roster, a role player who dedicates every second of his 28.2 minutes per night on the floor to doing his job. His reputation as a lock down perimeter defender has been earned over the past seven years in the NBA as the 28-year-old drew the responsibility of guarding an opponent’s best wing scorer night in and night out.
“He just comes in and does his work,” Brooks said. “As a teammate you admire that, as a coach you admire that. You just want guys to do just do their work and do it every day and take pride in it. Thabo is that guy. He leads by the work that he puts in… He’s a guy that you respect how he presents himself, how he prepares every game and how he plays every game.”
Whether it is guarding Kobe Bryant on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena or drawing players like Tony Parker or Joe Johnson on other nights, Sefolosha uses his length, athleticism and savvy to prevent players from getting to their preferred spots on the floor. Making the opposition’s best perimeter player inefficient on a night to night basis is something Sefolosha’s teammates like Kevin Durant respect.
“He just brings that energy, first off,” Durant said. “We know what we’re going to get from him every single game. He’s going to play hard on defense, he’s going to make all the right rotations on defense and he’s going to be aggressive on the offensive end.”
The Swiss native whose family hails from South Africa had a busy summer after participating in Basketball Without Borders alongside Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, but managed to find some time to work on his shooting stroke. Last season in 42 games Sefolosha knocked down 43.7 percent of his three point attempts, a marked improvement from the 27.5 percent he shot in 2010-11. This season, Sefolosha has knocked in an even higher amount- to the tune of 46.3 percent.
“I dedicated my summer to become a better shooter,” Sefolosha said. “It’s been working for me, I had something good going on in the summer… Especially this year, I think we’re doing such a great job of passing the ball to one another and trusting each other, that gives me a lot of confidence. I get some open shots early in the game and am able to knock those down and the confidence starts from there.”
Within the flow of the offense is where Sefolosha does the majority of the scoring, which is understandable considering the playmakers the Thunder has in Russell Westbrook and Durant. When Westbrook splits a pick-and-roll or Durant gets double-teamed on a post-up, they need ready and willing options on the wings or in the corner to knock down open jumpers when the defense collapses.
“It’s good that he’s taking those shots with confidence,” Durant said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s shooting 35 percent or 46 percent, we just want him to shoot those basketballs and those open shots. We’re going to continue to keep giving him confidence every single game, keep passing it to him. He’s working on his game after practice and before practice and hopefully he keeps making them."
Spacing is key within the Thunder’s offensive scheme, and while players like Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka create passing lanes by sliding to the dunker spot just outside the low block, Sefolosha and Kevin Martin re-locate to the corner to shoot the most efficient shot in the game, and the shortest three-point shot. In fact, Sefolosha is shooting 14-for-25 so far this season on corner threes, and that 56 percent shooting rates second best in the NBA only behind Ray Allen among players who have taken at least 25 corner threes this season.
“The thing is just to move the ball early in the game, whatever time it is in the game,” Sefolosha said. “I think it’s just for me to be patient and stay in the corner because I know that’s where they’re going to find me.”
More than just his understanding of the game, defensive prowess or dead-eye shooting, it is Sefolosha’s leadership that provides the most value to the Thunder. The veteran complements the leadership on the team with his own style and in an educational manner, helps his teammates learn how they can improve at each practice, shoot-around and game.
“He comes into the locker room and tells guys when they mess up, tells us when we’re going a good job,” Durant said. “He’s a great leader, he’s helping everybody out. He pulls everybody to the side and tells them exactly what they need to do and we listen to him because we respect how hard he plays and his work ethic. He’s a great player to have on this team.”