It looks like the Hawks are going to be pretty thin at small forward this season. With the team choosing not to re-sign DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks are left with Thabo Sefolosha as the most likely candidate to start at the small forward spot, and limited options elsewhere on the roster in the way of perimeter defenders capable of covering large small forwards. The team has a number of shooting guards listed at 6-6 and 6-7, but it seems like the team will struggle defending the perimeter, and that’s assuming Sefolosha comes back ready to play.
Sefolosha’s injury sustained during an altercation with NYPD officers is progressing, but it’s still unclear when he will return to basketball activities. Furthermore, Sefolosha is facing trial for the incident and apparently rejected a plea deal that would net him only one day of community service. I’d assume that since he’s rejecting such a lenient plea, Sefolosha’s case is strong enough, (and the charges minor enough), that he isn’t risking jail time to prove his innocence. However, the trial will coincide with training camp, and could cause Sefolosha to miss valuable practice time.
This practice time could be incredibly valuable given that Sefolosha hasn’t been able to practice since the injury, and may not be healthy enough to practice with the team in time for the start of training camp. The team is already counting on Sefolosha’s ability to rejoin the team, if he comes back rusty, or later than they hoped, the team could find themselves in a lot of trouble at the start of the season.
Sefolosha only started in seven games last season, mostly playing behind Carroll as the backup small forward. He played a starting role during his years in Oklahoma City, but that was usually as a defense-oriented shooting guard. He’ll be expected to cover perimeter players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George for the Hawks this year, and the team is limited in their depth of players who can help Sefolosha carry the load. Expecting him to be the primary line of defense against these players is a tall order for someone who may not be able to practice until the season has already started.
Ultimately, the Hawks are going to need to hope their shooting guards can play up a position and cover the larger perimeter players in the league. Even if Sefolosha is ready to practice in time for training camp, he hasn’t had a full offseason to prepare as well as he’d like. Even if Sefolosha is at full strength to start the season, the Hawks can’t expect to be successful with him as their only small forward on the roster. He averaged less than twenty minutes a game last season, and he was very effective in that more limited role.
Bumping Sefolosha up to starter, with little depth to back him up and while he’s coming off an injury that kept him off the practice court all offseason, does not seem like putting him in the best position to succeed. The Hawks could be facing a glaring hole at one of the positions where it’s most dangerous to have a glaring hole. If they want to beat teams with great perimeter players this season, they may want to try to find a way to plug it.