You don’t get to be a role player in the NBA for 13 seasons without being exceptional at a specific component of the game or undergoing some degree of continual reinvention.
Thabo Sefolosha not only knows that, he lives it. It is pretty much a necessity on his part these days in order to continue seeing the court. He may have spent most of his career as a defensive nuisance on the wing, but now he has developed into a near-50 percent 3-point shooter primarily manning the stretch-four position. And he’s OK with that.
“You know what? I just love the game. And whatever I see is needed to make a change, to make sure I can spend some time on the court, I’m willing to do,” Sefolosha said. “So I spend a lot of hours in the gym working on it; [I] try to stay confident all throughout it, through injuries ... playing time, whatever, and just be myself.”
He hasn’t played a ton this season — just 35 games overall, partly because of a hamstring strain, and only 10.4 minutes per game, primarily because Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles get the lion’s share of the wing minutes and Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder get the bulk of them at the four.
Sefolosha is putting up mostly modest numbers as a result — 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds — though that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an impact, especially considering he’s shooting 48.8 percent from deep.
“There’s some things that show up on the stat sheet and there’s other things that don’t — Thabo’s another great glue guy for us,” said guard Kyle Korver. “… But when he’s out there — this is my second time playing with Thabo; I played with him in Atlanta for a few years — he’s just such a smart player, he feels the game really well. … His catch-and-go’s, his ability to get into the paint, make good passes, he just has knack for defections and steals. And then, to add on that, he’s shooting the ball really well.”
Of course, as a longtime veteran of the league, he’s learned plenty. And now he’s teaching it, too.
Whatever he cannot contribute in game action, he makes up for by getting in the ears of teammates — a little veteran trick here, a helpful suggestion for a defensive assignment there, even simply setting an example for the young guys with his effort and preparation outside of games.
“It’s a testament of his hard work, the work he puts in before practice, during practice, after practice,” said well-traveled big man Ekpe Udoh. “… He’s been around, he’s seen a lot of players come and go, and he’s still here. He definitely shares his knowledge with the guys, through the good times and the times that pose a lesson.”
“It’s very helpful for our young players to see him work, because he’s a true professional,” he said. “It’s been good for us to have him around — he’s a voice in the locker room through the ups and downs of the season.”
Second-year wing Royce O’Neale, however, joked that all he needs from Sefolosha is one highly specific thing: “I’m just waiting for my [Nike] Air Maxes from him!”
Sefolosha can’t help but smile at the good-natured ribbing he gets about his, shall we say, unconventional choice of footwear.
He also grins when talking about facing his former Oklahoma City teammates on Monday. Yes, it’s a big game against a division opponent and potential playoff foe. But after spending five seasons and part of a sixth with the Thunder, Sefolosha also has plenty of good memories associated with the franchise.
Asked about mercurial superstar Russell Westbrook, he noted that the volatile personality that comes across in televised games somehow is and isn’t an accurate reflection.
“He’s a very intense guy. He’s very different on and off the court. Great guy. He’s a motor on the team — sometimes that can be to the best interests of everybody, and some guys don’t respond too well to that,” Sefolosha said. “Obviously, he’s a unique player in this league — fun to watch. I appreciate the guy and what we’ve been through together when I was there.”
A recent ESPN.com article detailing Westbrook’s many grudges around the league quoted Thunder big man Steven Adams as being confused as to which former teammates it was OK to acknowledge pregame without incurring his point guard’s wrath:
“I did it to, like, say, Thabo. There’s an exception there. … There are certain ones you can maybe go over and hug. I’m still feeling this out,” Adams told ESPN. “… I’ll, like, look Thabo off and then see where Russ is looking and then quickly go in for the quick hug. ‘No, I wasn’t doing anything, Russ.’”
Sefolosha acknowledged he had read the story and had a good laugh about it. He said he simply chose to acknowledge whoever he felt like and left them to deal with the consequence’s of Westbrook’s potential ire.
“On my end, it’s all good, it’s all love. I see them and I like to go and dap them up,” he said. “On their end … it’s a little more intense. So, that kind of sums up Russell.”
JAZZ VS. THUNDER
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 37-28; Thunder 40-26
Last meeting • Thunder, 148-147, 2OT (Feb. 22)
About the Jazz • Utah has lost two of its last three games — splitting home-and-away meetings with the Pelicans, before falling in Memphis on Friday. … The Jazz rank fourth in the NBA in defensive rating for the season, but just 11th post-All-Star break. … After leading the NBA in field-goal percentage most of the season, Rudy Gobert (65.1) now trails the Knicks’ DeAndre Jordan (65.3).
About the Thunder • Paul George and Russell Westbrook combined for 88 points, 24 rebounds, and 15 assists in the teams’ last meeting. … Oklahoma City is coming off a 118-110 loss to the Clippers on Friday, and is just 3-7 in its last 10 games. … George ranks second in the NBA with 28.4 ppg.