The Oklahoma City Thunder will continue to stride forward with the talented core of 2014 MVP Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. OKC’s supporting cast, however, will likely experience some key changes.
The oncoming unrestricted free agency of starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha, for instance, could get the ball rolling.
When asked if he expects to remain in Oklahoma City beyond the 2014 offseason, the 30-year-old veteran certainly didn’t sound confident.
“I have no clue,” Sefolosha said, per The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry. “I’m going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things and see the options and take it from there.”
The lanky swingman’s regular-season numbers didn’t paint a pretty picture—especially in a contract year. His per-game averages remained vastly similar, but his shooting efficiency fell off the grid.
His three-point shooting dropped more than 10 percentage points compared to the season prior, and his shooting from the field overall (41.5 percent) left a lot to be desired.
Still, Sefolosha’s low point occurred in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. He was glued to the bench after back-to-back losses in Games 1 and 2. He played zero minutes in Games 3, 4 and 6. He notched just eight minutes in Game 5.
Sefolosha said the following of his postseason benching, per Mayberry:
It was very frustrating, very frustrating. It’s never easy. I would say the last month has been a little frustrating. I’m happy to see the team win, but obviously it’s definitely not the way we wanted to end the season. It’s just tough. You’ve got a lot of questions, like, why and what is the thought process behind it? Things like that. You just stick with the plan, stick with your teammates. But definitely it’s frustrating at times.
Well, perhaps head coach Scott Brooks' "thought process" to bench his regular starter was an adjustment to find any sort of production at the position.
Through the first two games of the series, Sefolosha recorded zero points, zero assists, zero blocks, two rebounds, one steal, one turnover and was 0-of-5 from the field (0-of-3 from deep). The defensive-minded 2-guard couldn’t shoot the ball into a swimming pool, which prompted Coach Brooks to lean on Reggie Jackson’s youthful exuberance for an offensive spark.
Of course, there’s certainly a chance Sefolosha would have flourished in an offensive system that depended upon more than just isolation plays for its stars.
“Role players like Sefolosha would thrive under more structure,” Mayberry wrote. “Instead, they’re never sure when they’re (sic) next shot, their next touch, is coming. It prevents players like Sefolosha from feeling comfortable and never allows them to get into a rhythm.”
This shouldn’t excuse Sefolosha’s evident struggles on offense, but it does provide an interesting talking point. What types of role players would be ideal fits around KD and Westbrook moving forward?
That’s something general manager Sam Presti has to figure out in order to bolster the roster. OKC may not sniff a title until he brings in better complementary pieces.
One such option is promoting Jackson for the foreseeable future. The 24-year-old guard already said in his exit interview, “I’d like to be a starter. I’m not going to lie,” per Daily Thunder's Royce Young.
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk seems to endorse that possibility.
“Counting more on Jackson. It seems a smart move. He’s earned a starting spot,” he wrote.
Sefolosha’s days in a Thunder uniform appear to be winding to a close. At the very least, he enjoyed his six-year stint with a contender.
“It was a great time, and I’m happy about the time here and we’ll see what the future holds,” he said.
His quality perimeter defense has been a mainstay for OKC, but Sefolosha’s offensive shortcomings have put more pressure on Durant and Westbrook than necessary. Jackson's youth and well-rounded play on both ends make him the best option for Presti and Co. heading into next season and beyond.