Before the trade deadline, most Oklahomans knew only that Switzerland produces good chocolate, helpful pocketknives, secretive banks, and hot blondes. Little did we know that the country could also provide difference making basketball players.
An afterthought dealt by the Bulls after their “blockbuster” trade which netted them John Salmons overloaded the team at the wing, Thabo Sefolosha’s being moved was not picked up by the media until well after the league’s deadline had expired. Just mere weeks later, the Thunder’s acquisition of the Swiss national in return for a late first round pick in a weak draft class is already being billed as the steal of this year’s trade season.
It is not hard to see why. The one time the team has lost in the past two weeks (a time frame in which the Thunder’s two best players–Kevin Durant and Jeff Green–have both missed) it was when Sefolosha missed with a sprained MCL. One could pass that off as a coincidence, but Julian Wright, the player that Sefolosha would have guarded, went off for a career high twenty points in that game. With Thabo in the line up, you can rest assured that would not have happened.
While I have been ranting about the need for better shooting from the shooting guard position, it turns out that what the team really needed was better defense from the wing. As Kevin Durant recuperates from his sprained ankle, Sefolosha has been making his presence felt. While his numbers are not as glitzy as the man he has been subbing for, Thabo has not been shabby. During the past five games he has played in, Sefolosha has averaged the following while playing approximately the same number of minutes as K.D.:
- 14.2 points
- 7.0 rebounds
- 2.8 assists
- 2.6 steals
- 1.4 blocks
- 1.4 turnovers
On the season, Durant is nearly doubling his Swiss counterpart in points, but the rebounds and assists are nearly identical while Sefolosha practically doubles him in steals and blocks while nearly halving Durant’s turnover totals. The big statistic, though, is how the whole team has been playing as a defensive unit with Sefolosha as the anchor. On the season, they give up an average of 103 points per game, but in the five games Sefolosha has played starter minutes, they give up only 87. That’s sixteen points they are shaving from the opposition.
The Philadelphia game was a perfect example of where he made his presence felt. At tip off, he was assigned to the 76ers best player, Andre Iguodala. Iggy could get nothing going with Sefolosha’s relentless pressure and faded as a scoring option. Meanwhile, the Sixers’ point guard Andre Miller became their only reliable scorer. He managed eighteen points by midway through the third quarter when Sefolosha was reassigned to cover him. When the final buzzer went off, Miller had only added two more points.
Now, am I saying the Thunder is better off without Durant? Absolutely not. When our star returns from injury, the new defensive catalyst simply slides over to the shooting guard position displacing Kyle Weaver. (Note: I like Kyle Weaver, I think he’s a decent player, but if your team is counting on Weaver to be anything more than an injury replacement or eat minutes when someone gets in foul trouble, your team is not very good.) Then, the team gets Durant’s 26 points on the offensive end, and Thabo handles the defensive match-up against the opposition’s best perimeter player.
Then after the win, the two players can sit down for some hot cocoa.