Thabo Sefolosha is a player who was considered quite an obscure prospect when he first started appearing in our weekly European roundups and 2006 mock draft well over a year ago. These days Sefolosha is flying under the radar no longer after having established himself as one of the most unique players for NBA scouts to watch outside of the NCAA. But the question remains, where in the world did Sefolosha come from? And how did he surpass so many European prospects who have been hyped through FIBA tournaments for years? We had a chance to ask Sefolosha (who speaks fluent English) some of these questions ourselves, as well as give you a detailed scouting report on where he stands as a player at the moment.1136
To answer that question we must start in Switzerland, circa 2002, where the 17 year old Sefolosha quietly began to put up fine numbers in a fairly anonymous league as the starting point guard for Vevey Riviera Basket. The skinny and extremely raw Sefolosha, son of a South African musician
and French painter
who fled South Africa for Switzerland because of the apartheids frown on interracial marriages at the time, decided to take his trade to France to work on his all-around skills and take his game to the next level. According to Sefolosha himself, the decision was not a hard one to make: Switzerland is a small country and the opportunities that basketball provides are restricted. So when I was proposed to go play for a pro team in France I thought it was time to go see something else. It wasn't too hard because I was only 3 hours away from home and I was with a lot of young guys that were doing the exact same. Plus the language wasn't a problem.
He only played in 4 games in his rookie year in France, spending more time with the Espoirs (junior) team than the seniors but still seeing spot minutes with Chalon in the ULEB cup and also getting his first call to the Swiss national team. 2003-2004 was much more kind to the now 19 year old Sefolosha, earning a spot in his teams rotation, playing in 30 games and averaging 4 points, 3 and a half rebounds and one assist per game. Hardly the stuff legends are made out of, but this just goes to show you how hes steadily made huge strides in his game over the past few years and slowly crept past almost every single one of his 1984 generation mates. The 2004-2005 season was when we really started to take notice of him as you can see in the links section of his profile by the amount of mentions he got in our weekly European roundups, especially early on in the season. Sefolosha became a full-time starter in both Pro A and the ULEB Cup, helping his team to a 3rd place finish in the French league and a trip to the semi-finals of the playoffs. Sefolosha put his name on the early-entry list of the draft last year, mostly for recognition purposes, and wisely pulled out at the deadline in June. A classic case of testing the waters: I just wanted to probe the teams interest and see where I stood, said Sefolosha . Once I took that step I thought my chances would be bigger this year. Also, I finished 04-05 very late.
A long and odd dispute with his team Chalon, eventually settled in court, saw him land in Italy with a mid-sized team from just outside of Milan in Angelico Biella for this current season. After missing the first four games of the season because of the dispute with his team, and then coming off the bench mostly in the beginning of the year, he has since become a full-time starter and extremely important cog in Biellas system. His team is currently 10-9 in the very tough Lega, their best start ever, comfortably safe from the relegation zone and just a few games outside of the 8th place spot that leads to the Italian playoffs. Sefolosha has been their jack of all trades, the glue guy that is asked to guard the opponents best perimeter player, handle the ball for his team at times, crash the glass on both ends of the floor, create shots for himself and others off the dribble and just generally wreak havoc with his long arms and smooth athleticism. 1138
Hes an interesting prospect for this draft, combining your typical European fundamentals and outstanding feel for the game with the type of explosiveness that youll usually find in American prospects. He is a very smooth, but not an amazing athlete, capable of getting by his man with a nice 1st step, being highly fluid and coordinated and able to get off the ground with a solid vertical leap to finish plays around the hoop or block shots. His frame looks decent even though he might be lacking a bit of strength at the moment, particularly in the lower body where he could stand to add some more bulk.
His best attribute and what has gotten him noticed and on the floor for the past 4 years is his defensive ability, showing excellent aggressiveness and toughness, super long arms, great understanding of how to defend spaces, and the footwork, timing and hands to place himself in the right spot at the right time. He excels both in man to man and team defense, showing very good awareness and being quick to rotate and cover for his teammates. Hes an active player who plays with purpose and will come up with plenty of steals and even your occasional blocked shot. Rebounding is another big strength of his thanks to all the characteristics outlined above, even pulling down am impressive 15 boards just this past week in the Italian league.
Offensively, he is mostly a slasher, capable of using his excellent ball-handling skills, footwork and high basketball IQ to create shots for himself and his teammates. He takes the ball strong to the hoop and uses the angles presented to him well to finish or get to the line. Sefolosha was a point guard early in his career, and indeed plays a bit of a point-forward role for Biella at times, bringing the ball up the floor and showing excellent court vision and passing ability finding the open man off the dribble. He likes to crash the glass and start the fast break on his own, picking his spots very well on the floor, being highly unselfishalmost to a fault at times, but usually making the right decision.
Being a player who could get to the hoop almost whenever he pleased early in his career thanks to his ball-handling skills and athletic ability, Sefoloshas perimeter shooting is not as advanced as the rest of his game. His shot mechanics need work as his release is a bit on the slow side and he really lacks range and consistency on his jump shot. His effectiveness drops off considerably when hes asked to shoot the ball off the dribble, even from mid-range. Hes getting better in this area all the time, improving his percentages from 32% from 3-point range last year on a little over two attempts per game to a more respectable 43% this year on 3.6 attempts per game. Hes become a lot more confident in his outside shot and his offense in general this year, but still, it will take time for him to expand his range to the NBA 3-point line as well as become more than just a catch and shoot threat with his feet set. 1137
The worst thing you could say about Sefolosha is that he is more of a role-player than he is a potential star. Teams looking to swing for the fences and find the next coming will probably want to look elsewhere. Being automatically eligible as a 1984 prospect, he wont be projected to have the same upside that some of the underclassmen in this draft do. He has been noticeably improving in almost every facet from year to year, though, so it might be too early to say that his development process is done. Even if NBA teams arent sold on him being ready to play in the NBA, he is pretty versatile in the fact that a team that is short on roster spots could decide to draft him and keep him in Europe for another season (why not?)and if they do want to bring him over, he has a clear buyout clause in his contract for less than the maximum the NBA is allowed to pay. A playoff team that is looking for an extremely solid and mature all-around player to step in and do the little things for them is the type of situation where he could really thrive. Sefolosha appears to agree: The best situation for me will be to go to a team that needs me and really wants me. I feel that I can play in any system. The Knicks with two late first round picks and a coach like Larry Brown
who loves players in his mold probably need to give him a long hard look.
Regarding his plans for the summer, Sefolosha is only worried about one thing right now: winning. We still have chances for the playoffs so it's too early to make plans. I am certain that I will do some intensive training before NBA workouts, but the timing depends on how Biella does, which is my most important interest now.