The unpredictable, cap-spaced Atlanta Hawks reportedly arranged for their first move of free agency on Thursday: a three-year, $12 million deal with former Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha. There is a version of Sefolosha – who in Oklahoma City was once a valued defender and spot shooter – worth that salary. Whether that version arrives in Atlanta, however, remains to be seen. His shooting had deteriorated so much over the course of the 2013-14 season that Scott Brooks saw fit to snip the former starter from his rotation entirely. On his way out, Sefolosha made just six of his 24 postseason three-point attempts after finishing the regular season 1-for-13.
There are shooters with diverse enough games to bend with that kind of slump. Some might look to create for their teammates more often. Others might drive toward the basket to draw fouls or find shorter-range opportunities. Sefolosha isn't really capable of either, as his contributions on that side of the ball are linked almost exclusively to his shooting range. In that, Sefolosha's offensive game is specific to a fault: It hinges so much on three-point makes and misses that when the shots don't fall, Sefolosha's value does.
To the extent that he has any margin for error, it comes on the defensive end. Sefolosha isn't in the Tony Allen tier of defensive phenomena, though he's pesky enough to at least contend with top-level scorers. Such was his value to the Thunder, where Sefolosha's flexibility in defending multiple positions freed up Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from the most difficult assignments on the board. That part of Sefolosha's game hasn't much faltered; although it became more difficult for Oklahoma City to stomach Sefolosha's minutes as the season wore on, his individual defense remained relatively stout – allowing for some regression from an athletic wing who just crossed into his 30s. Atlanta hopes to import that quality of coverage here, while banking on the idea that open space and regression to the mean will allow for improvement in Sefolosha's shooting.
That's a reasonable gamble, given that Sefolosha shot 43 percent and 42 percent in his previous two seasons. Oklahoma City had come to depend on his marksmanship to keep opposing defenses honest, through slow wind-up and all. The nature of his opportunities didn't much change from one year to the next, either, though the outcome certainly did: In his last season as a Thunder, Sefolosha made just 28.1 percent of his spot-up attempts from beyond the arc, per Synergy Sports. Were he to regain his form as to shoot even a few shades better than the league average, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could make good use of Sefolosha as a floor spacer for Atlanta's spread pick-and-rolls. He wouldn't be an upgrade over Kyle Korver or DeMarre Carroll but a sensible addition to that tandem in the name of depth.
Atlanta's need for quality wings in reserve is glaring. As a pairing, Korver and Carroll were fairly stout on both sides of the ball. When even one of the two went to the bench, however, the very fabric of the Hawks' existence seemed to tear at the seams:
In a sense, Sefolosha doesn't need to be better than Korver or Carroll. He simply has to be more effective than the likes of Cartier Martin or last season's Lou Williams. He's capable of that much, though any validation will come from the direct connection between the tips of his fingers and the splash of the net.
Grade: C-plus. Sefolosha didn't exactly sign at a bargain price, but his size, length, and potential to contribute as a shooter will further solidify Atlanta's wing rotation.