There is no denying that Thabo Sefolosha was a very big part of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. The defensively minded shooting guard, brought an element of toughness and experience in a time where the young Thunder were crying out for both. One of the inaugural modern day “D & 3″ players, Sefolosha always took the shut down role on opposition scorers and was entrusted to hit open jumpshots. He had no ego, fit the Thunder system well and allowed Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to get their shots.
It was a perfect marriage. When Thabo injured his calf earlier in the season, things weren’t looking good. The Thunder franchise (as they always do) had already planned ahead, drafting basically Thabo 2.0 in Andre Roberson, but neither parties could have thought the end would come as swiftly as it would. By the time the NBA Playoffs rolled around, OKC had starting giving Roberson minutes to see what he could do, they changed the lineups to start Reggie Jackson alongside Westbrook and they had added Caron Butler – a veteran with a strikingly similar skillset.
It was tough to watch as Sefolosha was pushed further and further down the depth chart, ultimately not being able to find a role on the team at all in the dying games.
Plenty of Thunder fans will be upset by the fact Thabo is now in Atlanta playing for the Hawks. A true professional, Sefolosha was a “glue guy” for the Thunder and not to be underestimated. His ability to fit seamlessly into any lineup and to put aside any personal agenda for the betterment of the team was his calling card – and he will be a very good player for the Hawks.
Unfortunately, the time comes when an arrangement such as Thabo’s and the Thunders draw to a mutual close. OKC can no longer stunt the development of their young guards (Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson) and they need minutes to improve and carve their own niche in this side. In short, Thabo had to go.
With the loss of Sefolosha, there are a number of key elements of the game that are going to need to be filled. There will be more minutes for Lamb, Roberson and Jackson, but with that comes great responsibility. The team things still need to be done, opposition scorers need to be shut down, open shots need to be hit and the floor needs to be run. It is going to take a concerted effort by all involved to fill the void Thabo has left. Roberson will probably bring the energy, strength, defense and rebounding – as well as the selflessness. Jeremy Lamb will be trying to fill the open shot / long range scoring element as well as bring some spark from the bench if Reggie Jackson ultimately takes Thabo’s place in the starting unit.
It’s only when you experience the departure of a player, that you truly understand just what they brought to the table. The Thunder no doubt thank Thabo for all his services and dedication to the cause, and now they start the task of replacing him. In order to forget him, they must replace him. Just how well they can do that, might be the key to a return to the NBA Finals and perhaps a championship.