Jan 25, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha (25) during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Shaking Up The 2 Spot: The Futures Of Sefolosha & Butler

As much as I’m sure Thabo Sefolosha hates to admit this, I’m almost sure he sees the writing on the wall. The print became all too clear as Scott Brooks benched him on multiple occasions in order to find more scoring punch. Even Sefolosha himself admitted that he doesn’t like his chances of being re-signed to the Thunder. When asked about his future with the Thunder, and if he even thought he had one, his response was a rather simple one:

“I have no clue.”

Jan 25, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha (25) during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing as Sefolosha has been with the Thunder since he was acquired in a mid-season trade with Chicago for a 1st round pick in the Thunder’s inaugural season, imagining Sefolosha in something other than a Thunder uniform has become increasingly difficult over the years. Over the course of his 4-plus years in Oklahoma City, he had become the team’s perimeter defensive linchpin. Even earlier this season his perimeter defensive value was rather well-established when he went down to a calf sprain following the All-Star break, as teams began to light up the Thunder from beyond the arc in his absence.

Upon his return, the entire team defense seemed to tighten up. His defense has always been relentless, as he is one who rarely gives up on the defensive end. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t his defensive play that started getting him benched as the playoffs progressed. What got him benched is the fact that he began to completely disappear at the offensive end during games. By the time the 2014 Western Conference Finals rolled around, Sefolosha had completely lost his value at the offensive end.

His entire offensive contributions in the 2014 Western Conference Finals are as follows:

Game 1 – Minutes played: 15:32. 0-4 shooting, 0-1 from downtown.

Game 2 – Minutes played: 10:19. 0-5 shooting, 0-2 from downtown. 1 Offensive Rebound. 1 Turnover.

Game 5 – Minutes played: 7:38. 1-2 shooting. 2 Points. 1 Turnover.

Game 6 – Minutes played: 0:04.

Totals – Minutes played: 33:29. 1-11 shooting (9.1%), 0-3 from downtown. 2 Points. 1 Offensive Rebound. 2 Turnovers.

By the time the 2014 Western Conference Finals had reached their conclusion, Sefolosha had totaled about as many minutes as Serge Ibaka averages for a single game. But to put it point blank, if Ibaka posted numbers that dismal after spending 30+ minutes on the court, he would almost certainly see his minutes drop. Sadly, this postseason series has almost certainly sealed Sefolosha’s fate, as it has exposed him for the offensive liability he truly is.

So where do the Thunder go from here? Seeing as Sefolosha is almost certain to vacate the starting SG position by the time next season begins, they’ll need to take a look at what they are going to have to replace. His career stats line up rather well with his totals from last season, so I’ll just go with those.

His per-game totals are as follows: Points – 6.3, Rebounds – 3.6, Assists – 1.5.

Although there’s a fairly new stat category in the NBA that is actually designed to measure a players overall impact on the games in which they play. It is referred to as Player Impact Estimate, or PIE for short. For a good perspective of PIE, a PIE of over 20% is considered astronomical. LeBron James and Kevin Durant were the only two players to log a PIE over 20% for the season.

Therefore, if you really want to gauge a player’s ability to adequately replace Sefolosha and make the team better overall, you’ll have to put up their PIE against Sefolosha’s. If the Thunder are looking for an adequate replacement for Sefolosha, they will need to replace him with a player who has a PIE greater than 6.9%.

May 29, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder bench reacts against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Caron Butler’s contract was bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks just before the trade deadline, which allowed him to become a free agent. Butler was one of a number of players in the league earlier this season looking for a buyout on his contract so he could land on a contending squad. The Bucks bought his contract out, then waived him outright. The Bucks had nothing but good things to say about Butler as they waived him. I honestly think they wanted to keep him, but Butler just wanted out, because their chances as a postseason contender were pretty much gone by that point.

Butler quickly proved to be a solid contributor, as he was one of two people you could count on to score double digits off of the bench, with Reggie Jackson being the other. I would count Jeremy Lamb in this group, but he doesn’t get enough playing time to develop consistency with his scoring. Besides, Lamb usually plays the 1 spot (PG) when he sees minutes anyway. Not only did Butler bring a smooth shooting stroke with him to the Thunder, he also brought yet even more championship experience with him, as he was a member of the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks.

With Sefolosha vacating the 2 spot at a 6.9% PIE, would Butler’s promotion to the starting SG position be an immediate improvement for the Thunder’s starting lineup?

Answer: Definitely. With a PIE of 8.6%, Butler actually adds 1.7% more PIE to the starting lineup overall. He may not be the tenacious perimeter defender that Sefolosha is, but at the end of the day, his shooting stroke is far more reliable. He averages more points (10.5) and more rebounds (4.7) per game than Sefolosha, without giving up anything in the assist category (also 1.5 per game).

The problem is that after averaging 19+ minutes in the first 4 games of the series, Butler saw his minutes drop to 15 in Game 5, which at the time wasn’t really a concern for Butler. Then Brooks decided have Butler be the only active Thunder player besides Hasheem Thabeet to sit the entirety of Game 6, which turned out to be the last one of the Thunder’s season. Needless to say, Butler felt more than just a bit insulted by Brook’s decision, and now Butler’s future on the team is officially in question. With that in mind, the Thunder may be forced to find a replacement on the bench as well.

This concludes Part 1 of my “Shaking Up The 2 Spot” series. Please return to Thunderous Intentions, as Part 2 will examine the New York Knicks’ proposed trade of Iman Shumpert for one of the Thunder’s 1st round draft picks. Don’t miss it!

Tags: Caron Butler Oklahoma City Thunder Thabo Sefolosha

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