Maybe someone needs to invent a new stat for players like Thabo Sefolosha. When your role is to guard elite players such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, customary measuring sticks like points, rebounds, assists and blocks fail to measure the value of defensive stoppers like Sefolosha. “I don't see it as pressure,” Sefolosha said. “There are a lot of very good players in this league. If I guard Kobe, D-Wade or Carmelo (Anthony), whoever it is, you try to make them work for their shots. It's a tough job, but you accept the challenge and do your best.” Acquired in a trade deadline deal with Chicago in mid-February, Sefolosha provided a defensive presence Oklahoma City was sorely lacking. Sefolosha's arrival made an immediate impact. In Sefolosha's first 10 games as a starter, the Thunder was 6-4, one of its most successful stints all season. The Swiss product might open the season in the starting lineup. But at some point, rookie James Harden might push for a starting role. “Thabo was our defensive guy,” said Jeff Green. “He guarded the best 2 or 3 every game and did a great job. With the type of defensive mentality Thabo brings, with a full year here, it will really help improve our defense.” The only two stats that measure Sefolosha's true impact are steals and an obscure on-the-court rating developed by 82games.com. Sefolosha's on-the-court rating with Oklahoma City was plus-1.9, signifying the Thunder scored nearly two more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. Sefolosha's rebounding, blocks and steals production per minute ranked high among shooting guards. But to carve out a more significant role, he must improve offensively. “I worked hard on that this summer and feel pretty good about my offensive game,” Sefolosha said. “Hopefully, it will show this year. If I spend more time on the court, it's going to be through my defense and being able to knock down open shots.” Because he doesn't compile gaudy offensive stats, Sefolosha's value sometimes is underrated. “Our coaching staff and players definitely recognize his value,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But you can tell even our fans know what he brings. They see his energy. Our crowd loves it. What Thabo brings to a team is extremely valuable.”
To knock down open shots? Ready ... Sefolosha averaged a career best 1.71 steals during his two months with the Thunder. Over a full season that figure would have ranked sixth in the league. The Thunder was 6-7 in games Sefolosha recorded two or more steals. During his three seasons with the Bulls, Chicago was 21-13 when he compiled two or more steals. Or not ... Sefolosha shot 41.7 percent from the field his two months with Oklahoma City, 24.3 percent on 3-pointers. His career percentages are only slightly better. Until Sefolosha consistently knocks down open jumpers opposing defenses can sag off him on the offensive end to provide off-side defensive help on Kevin Durant and the Thunder's other weapons.