Thabo Sefolosha hasn’t played since January 30 — a win against the Portland Trailblazers. It also happened to be the second to last game of the 19-game winning streak. Now, Sefolosha returns tonight versus the Orlando Magic. Although Sefolosha has only averaged a tad under 20 minutes a game, he has a large impact when playing.
For the season, Sefolosha is playing 72 percent of his minutes at the Small Forward position, with Korver at Shooting Guard. While Sefolosha is guarding Small Forward’s, he is only allowing an insane 5.7 PER, according to 82games.com. For comparison, Kawhi Leonard is allowing a 12.6 PER, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gives up 10.2. Those are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and Sefolosha blows them out of the water. Now, Thabo has only played a total of 853 minutes, so he’s only played about 614 minutes at the position, which isn’t a very large sample size. Last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, opponents PER against Sefolosha was 10.7, so the defensive impact is definitely there. Sefolosha also gets to boast a 35.3 Effective Field Goal Percentage that his opponents shoot when he guards them.
With the added defensive ability that comes with Thabo Sefolosha, it allows the Hawks more leeway with their lineups. If Sefolosha starts alongside Korver, it allows Demarre Carroll to come off the bench, like the Thunder did with James Harden (no, I’m not comparing Carroll to Harden). Schroder, Carroll, and Scott of the bench in the playoffs can be very good, even if Carroll ends up playing more minutes than Sefolosha.
Not only has Sefolosha been great on defense, but he has been apart of some of the best lineups for the Hawks. A lineup of Schroder/Sefolosha/Korver/Scott/Horford has a great Offensive Rating of 1.25, as well as a ridiculous Defensive Rating of .82, for a net rating of +66. Again, any lineup containing Sefolosha is based off of a small sample size, but lineups with Sefolosha are really better on defense.
Although Sefolosha has one big positive, he can be knocked for his offense this season. In his 42 games played, Thabo has only shot 29 percent from behind the three point line; however, when he was on the Thunder, he shot over 40 percent in back-to-back years. There is room to be hopeful, though because he shot 37.5 percent from deep in December, and then shot 40 percent in January. If Sefolosha can shoot about 37 percent from three, the Hawks only get more threatening.
With the addition of Thabo Sefolosha, the Hawks are getting a key piece back. This also means there will be less playing time for others, such as Kent Bazemore and Shelvin Mack. The Hawks have cooled off after their big win streak, including a current three game losing streak — in which they’ve given up 114, 123, and 114 points– so adding Sefolosha back to the rotation will hopefully help the team get back on track.