This offseason the Hawks disappointed many (me) by not making many moves despite having close to max level cap room after trading Lou Williams and waiving Jon Salmons. However, the Hawks did sign Thabo Sefolosha formerly of the Oklahoma City Thunder to a three year 12 million dollar deal. Let’s take a look at what Thabo brings to the team.
Thabo’s strongest suit has always been his defense, and it seems that is why he was signed. Atlanta was about league average when it came to opponent points per game and had the tenth highest opponent field goal percentage and the 12th highest opponent effective field goal percentage. Needless to say, defense is area the Hawks could improve on.
So back to Sefolosha’s defense, how good is he really? Well, he had a bit of a slump last year. His points allowed per 100 possessions (also known as DRtg) increased from 103 to 104, and his defensive win shares- the estimated amount of contribution by a player due to his defense- decreased by one whole win from 3.1 to 2.1. However, he was still a very good defensive player. His 104 DRtg put him in the top 50 players who logged over a thousand minutes, putting him in the top 20% of all such players. His steal percentage, which was 2.5% last year and is around that mark every year, was the 25th best by a player who played over 1000 minutes last year, or the top 10% of all such players. He was also in the top 21% of all players for DWS (defensive win shares) last year.
Aside from those stats, though, where Thabo really shines is brand new metric from ESPN called Real Plus Minus or RPM. This metric is like plus-minus but adjusts for the effects of each teammate and the opposing player. RPM estimates how many points a players adds or subtracts on average to his team’s scoring margin per 100 possessions. It can also be separated into offensive (ORPM) and defensive RPM (DRPM). Thabo Sefolosha posted a 1.95 DRPM last season, which was 70th overall and in the top 16% of the league. He had the fifth highest DRPM among shooting guards last season.
Now, we move on to Sefolosha’s shortcomings, the biggest of which has always been his offensive ability. His ORPM last season was -1.32, which is really bad. He has only had 2 seasons in his career where he has generated over 1 win share with his offense. His PER, which measures efficiency but puts a heavy emphasis on offensive efficiency, has never been higher than league average. In spite of all that, there is one thing he has been very good at on offense, and that is corner threes. In the two seasons previous to last he shot 46.9% and 46.2% on corner threes. Last season he saw a downturn and shot 33.7% from the corner. I think this skill is the other reason the Hawks signed him, besides his stellar defense. In Coach Bud’s “space the floor, everybody shoot threes”™ system, the Hawks need corner shooters, especially corner specialists, who can thrive on kick outs. Sefolosha has had 97% of his three pointers throughout his career be assisted, so it’s fair to say he can fill that role.
Now on to evaluating his contract. It is a three year $12 million deal that pays about $4 million per year. Let’s compare this contract to Lou William’s contract the past two years to evaluate if Thabo was a better buy than Lou. The Hawks paid Lou about $5 million dollars a year for two years before trading him. Through that time Lou Williams produced 5 win shares total. During that time Sefolosha produced 9.8 win shares. Even though 2012-13 is probably a fluke, and the Hawks probably won’t get 6.8 win shares out of Thabo ever again, he is still most likely a 2.5 to 3.5 win share player for the next three years. So in replacing Lou Williams, the Hawks have found a player that will at least contribute the same value to the team, while improving the overall defense, and that they are paying less than his replacement. That is why I really like this signing, because despite all of his offensive warts, I think the Hawks got a player that will add value to the team for a great price.