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Yes, this is a player’s market. There are too few impactful free agents readily available, and too many teams with cap space to influence anything but a setting that tilts in the players’ favor. Chris Kaman nearly doubled his salary from last season after sitting for over half the year. Jodie Meeks will now make more than Anthony Davis next season. Gordon Hayward may sign for the max, and LeBron James will play for about a third of what he’s worth next season. Things have gone pear-shaped.
In steps Thabo Sefolosha, the man who was only on the court for five seconds in his team’s final (overtime) playoff game of the season, a fella who was chased out of the Oklahoma City Thunder starting lineup with two games to go in the Western Conference finals despite starting 434 consecutive healthy games for the Thunder following a bench stint (his first appearance in an OKC uniform ) late in 2009.
Sefolosha has agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks. RealGM’s Shams Charania was the first to report the deal, which seems to straddle the line between innocuous and bewildering. The Hawks have heaps of cap space, that was in place even before the squad decided to dump Lou Williams and a prospect on John Salmons’ barely-guaranteed contract, but this does seem like a slight stretch.
A slight one. Nothing that would seem to bite the Hawks in the rear, as time moves along.
Thabo turned 30 in May, and he just could not provide the sort of spacing that had done the Thunder so well in the previous two seasons, seasons that saw him hit well over 40 percent from behind the three-point line. Because Sefolosha hasn’t developed as a slasher, his defensive gifts failed to outweigh his mitigating offensive contributions at a time when the Thunder were playing for their playoff lives, which is why he was relegated to an afterthought in those final two games against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
Caveats abound, though. The Thunder offense is a simple one, and though its star-heavy approach often cannot be stopped even when the opposition knows what is coming, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s heavy usage denies everyone looks. That’s for a good reason, but it isn’t to be discounted.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that Thabo was drafted as a proto-Scottie Pippen, an all-around type meant to stir the drink. This was lost in Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro, and Scott Brooks’, um, somewhat rudimentary offenses. If Sefolosha can turn into the guy behind the guy, someone to set up the player that’s about to make that extra skip pass, he can turn into a sort of no-stats All-Star even if he only shoots the league average from behind the arc.
He’ll have to approach that number, though. The Hawks would be beside themselves if he manages to top 40 percent from behind the arc again, and more than frustrated if Sefolosha dips down to 31 percent from long range – as he did in 2013-14. Thabo sandwiched two great shooting years (nearly 44 and 42 percent from deep) with last season’s poor performance and a 30 percent run in his first two full years with the team between 2009 and 2011, so it’s a coin flip as to how he’ll turn out with Atlanta, a team that prides itself on spacing and encouraging three-point shooting.
At less than the league’s average salary, on a tradeable contract, Thabo should work out. Even if this dive in production is real and he is unable to find the all-around touch that made him a lottery pick back in 2006, Thabo Sefolosha making $4 million a year at the end of the bench isn’t exactly a millstone. And the upside is too real to ignore – the guy has the potential to be more than a limited three-point shooter and defender. If he and the Hawks remember that, it will come in handy once the plays break down.
Sometimes a change of scenery is all one needs. Is this the right change for Thabo Sefolosha? At the very least, the compensation suits him.
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