With the 2014 NBA Finals just a few games away, that means free agency is just around the corner. Many teams will look to improve themselves, be it by making a huge splash or picking up key role players. The New Orleans Pelicans are coming off of a season in which they finished last in the Southwest division, failing to reach the playoffs.
New Orleans certainly has several areas of need, be it their lack of a true center or their 18th in the league points per game average. But one of their biggest glaring holes is easily on the defensive end. In 2013-14, the Pelicans had the 27th worst defensive rating (110.1) and gave up 102.4 points per game (19th in the league). The stats do most of the talking there, but it’s clear there’s work to be done in the Big Easy.
The Pelicans don’t have any picks for the upcoming draft and they don’t have a huge wealth of money to throw around this summer. Looking at their major defense problem, there is a relatively cheap option who could help that: Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha, 30, started to lose minutes in Oklahoma City’s rotation this year due to the elevated play of young guard Reggie Jackson. Sefolosha has lost even more minutes in the playoffs, seeing his averages drop from 26 minutes per game to 17.5. With youngsters Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson fighting for more minutes at the shooting guard position, it’s looking more and more unlikely that Sam Presti and the Thunder look to re-sign the seven-year veteran.
This is incredibly good news for New Orleans, who have the ability to pick up a skilled defensive-minded guard to improve their defensive-challenged roster. In 2013-14, Thabo posted a 104 defensive rating, with an impressive 2.5 steal percentage and a 3.0 win share in only 26 minutes per game for the elite Oklahoma City Thunder. Aside from his defensive ratings, Sefolosha chipped in 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game with a .415 shooting percentage.
By no means is Thefolosha an offensive weapon, but paired with his hard working defensive mentality, he’d become a quality role player, especially on a team who could use the skills he brings.
New Orleans will have around $14.6 million to play around with this season (without re-signing any current players, of course). Looking at Sefolosha’s 2013-14, he wont be calling for a king’s ransom, and he could be acquired for somewhere around $5-6 million per season. Given his defensive role player abilities, a handful of teams will be seeking Sefolosha’s talent come this summer. Luckily for New Orleans, they’ll have some extra cap space to outbid other franchises looking to acquire the seven-year veteran.
Looking at New Orleans’ roster as it is, it’s unlikely that Sefolosha takes the starting job from Eric Gordon, but he could slide in as a backup shooting guard next to third-year player Austin Rivers. He averaged 26 minutes with Oklahoma City, starting in all 61 games he appeared in. It’s unlikely any team will be willing to have him start for them come 2014-15, so that wont be a huge drawback as far as joining New Orleans. Sefolosha could have the potential to raise New Orleans from the bottom of the division next season, and maybe even help them compete in the over-competitive Western Conference playoff race.
Shawn McFarland covers the New Orleans Pelicans for HoopsHabit.com