Utah Jazz Best/Worst Case Series: Thabo Sefolosha aims to return strong

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz arrives before the game against the Houston Rockets during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2018 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz arrives before the game against the Houston Rockets during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2018 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The manner in which Thabo Sefolosha is able to bounce back from his knee injury will determine the kind of impact he’s able to have for the Utah Jazz.

Fortunately for Utah Jazz fans, their team was able to close out the 2017-18 season extremely strong, concluding the year on a 29-6 run that saw them leap up to fifth place in the West. Unfortunately for Thabo Sefolosha, he wasn’t a part of that run. After suffering a knee injury earlier in the season, Thabo was forced to sit out the remainder of the year, enjoying Utah’s success from the sidelines.

However, if Utah’s chemistry can pick up right where it left off last season and Sefolosha can work his way into that mix while being as effective as he was to start out the year, he could be a great addition to an already formidable Jazz squad. There were times in the early part of the 2017-18 season where Sefolosha was one of Utah’s best players.

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Not only did he average the second highest scoring output of his career at 8.2 points per contest, but Thabo shot his best percentage from deep (38.1 percent) since the 2012-13 season. And, of course, he thrived in what he’s best known for – defense. The Jazz brought Sefolosha in to be a defensive ace and that’s exactly what he was, holding down the perimeter with ease.

If he can bring both those skill sets to the table next year, he could be yet another daunting weapon for the Jazz as a skilled 3-and-D player off the bench.

Best Case Scenario

Thabo Sefolosha’s best case scenario wouldn’t be all that different from what he was able to do in the 38 games he played last year. Essentially, he’d be a reliable 3-point shooter, eclipsing the 38 percent mark once again, while also remaining one of Utah’s best defensive options to hold elite opposing players in check. Sefolosha would thrive as a stretch-four and his versatility on D would allow the Jazz to be switchable to a deadly extent.

A big wild card facing Sefolosha that will have to pan out in order for him to reach his best case scenario would be that he fits seamlessly alongside Jae Crowder. The two of them never played alongside each other since Sefolosha was injured prior to the trade that brought Crowder over to Utah. At least on paper, they’re both somewhat redundant position-wise and skill-wise, but in a perfect world, they’ll find a way to co-exist.

Not only that, but Sefolosha’s best case scenario would see him set a new career-high in points per game. His 8.2 from last season was a nice mark by his standards, but if he is to become a reliable scoring threat off the bench for the Jazz, it’d be nice to see him settle in right around the 10.0 points per game mark. Ideally, Sefolosha will be able to fend off Father Time for yet another year and continue to be a force on both ends despite approaching 35 years of age.

Sefolosha’s role on the team this next year will be interesting to see considering that he wasn’t playing while the Jazz were at their best last season. Still, I don’t feel that those two conditions are interrelated, and I firmly believe that Sefolosha can be a major contributor for a dangerous Jazz team. For him to reach his best case scenario, he’ll need to be a firm part of Utah’s second unit and a reliable option on both ends of the floor whenever he’s in the game.

Worst Case Scenario

The worst option for Thabo Sefolosha would be if he simply finds himself out of the rotation and seldom contributing for the Jazz other than serving as a mentor and solid locker room presence. In a worst case scenario, he’ll prove that he indeed wasn’t necessary to the team’s success and that his absence was a reason why they went on a run last season. As I said, I don’t find that to be probable, but I suppose time will tell based on how well he meshes this season.

If Sefolosha struggles to make a positive impact, he’ll likely find his minutes essentially completely eaten up by Jae Crowder. If he’s unable to find his 3-point shot or loses a step on defense, it’s entirely possible that his overall game could see a big decline.

The other factor in play here is how he will be able to bounce back from his injury. All indications are that he should be good to go by the time the 2018-19 season rolls around and that it wasn’t all that serious of a setback. However, at 34 years old, injuries tend to take a harder toll. If Sefolosha’s worst case scenario becomes reality, recovering from this latest injury will be no easy task and he’ll find himself struggling to produce at a high enough level to remain on the floor.

I’m confident that Sefolosha will do everything in his power to bounce back from his injury, but Father Time remains undefeated. In a worst case scenario, his age and injury would catch up to him, rendering him a shell of his former self that wouldn’t find much playing time on a deep Utah Jazz roster.

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It’s hard to predict what will come of Sefolosha this upcoming season, but I’m confident that he’s going to be a contributor. His age and recent injury leave some of his skills in question, but although he may not reach his full-on best case scenario, I think we’ll see him still be a staple of Utah’s bench and make a key impact when he’s on the floor.

Particularly if he and Crowder can co-exist, the Jazz reserve unit is going to be about the biggest bunch of bullies possible as they, along with the likes of Royce O’Neale, Dante Exum and whoever happens to be filling in at center, be it Derrick Favors or Ekpe Udoh, will be one of the stingiest defensive bench units in the league.

Sefolosha’s upcoming season is somewhat in question, but when considering what he’s done throughout his career, there’s no reason to doubt his ability to find a way to continue to be effective.