The Los Angeles Lakers won only 26 games last season. That means they have plenty of holes to fill and improvements to make.
No deficiency is more clear, however, than the lack of capable defenders on the current roster. The Lakers ranked as the worst team in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, giving up 110.6 points per 100 possessions. Even as Luke Walton took over command of the team and made major strides in several departments, the defense stayed roughly equal.
The Lakers are planning on a quiet free agency in 2017, hoping to save cap space for 2018 when several star free agents could be on the market. Nevertheless, they have money to spend and a few open roster spots, giving them the flexibility to add some reinforcements ahead of the impending season.
The Lakers need defenders, especially veteran ones that can not only immediately help the team but also help develop the young core on that end of the floor without taking away precious touches and minutes. It’s imperative that the Lakers find players that fit this mold.
One such player, and arguably the best option, all things considered, is Thabo Sefolosha. The former Thunder role player is hitting free agency this July and could be on the move as the Atlanta Hawks start a youth movement of their own, starring several young wings such as Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry, and former Laker Kent Bazemore.
Sefolosha will be looking for a bigger deal, having signed a three-year, 12 million dollar contract in 2014 and now wanting to take advantage of the league-wide cap rise. Nevertheless, at 33 years old, he won’t be a signing that breaks the bank. The Lakers may be able to coax him into a 1 + 1 deal, giving him a large guarantee in the first year of his contract and a team option for the second. If he’s unwilling, they can sign him to a smaller per-year salary for a multi-year deal.
More importantly, Sefolosha fits exactly what the Lakers need. A veteran of two playoff franchises, Sefolosha can bring the cliche winning attitude that the team needs.
Meanwhile, the Swiss wing continues to be a strong defender. His 2.7 defensive win shares last season put him in the top 50 of the league. That’s a flawed metric but it does show to some extent how much he affected the Hawks’ defense, ranked fourth in the NBA.
Sefolosha also ranked ninth in the league in steal rate. While coming up with steals is far from a perfect measurement of how good of a defender someone is, it will be a useful tool for a Lakers team hoping to push the pace and run up and down the floor.
Offensively, Sefolosha is much more limited. He doesn’t fit the mold of playmaking that the Lakers desperately need even with the addition of Lonzo Ball, especially after trading D’Angelo Russell. But Sefolosha is no liability and even with limited touches, he can contribute offensively.
Sefolosha averaged 7.2 points per game and added 1.7 assists despite his limited passing prowess. He is not especially skilled and limits his dribbling, but can attack closeouts when necessary and converts at a decent level at the rim, hitting 57.9 percent of his shots near the basket, slightly above league average.
Most importantly, Sefolosha has the ability to knock down threes at a reliable, if not remarkable, level. Last season, Sefolosha hit 34.2 percent of his attempts from behind the arc, a number that does not place him among elite three-point shooters but does surpass every incumbent Laker expected to be on the team in 2017-18.
Sefolosha’s shooting last season was not a fluke, as the former Thunder role player has hit 34.5 percent of threes for his career. He has been mostly consistent from year-to-year, not allowing teams to sag off him often to crowd the paint.
A look at his shot chart (via NBA.com) shows that Sefolosha limits most of his shooting to threes and layups, an analytic dream making him an efficient role player for a team that has many mouths to feed as it continues to develop young players.
Sefolosha is not a stellar offensive player and his inclusion on the roster would limit how much Luke Walton can utilize the Warriors-esque motion and pass-heavy offense. But he’s not a liability and he can do just enough to stay on the court for heavy minutes.
Most importantly, he can be what the Lakers need on the other end of the floor, a heady, smart defender that can guard multiple positions well and finally help this team improve at their most glaring weakness.