Atlanta Hawks: Thabo Sefolosha Could be a Defensive Upgrade Over Carroll


Some people say that you should never beat a dead horse. I disagree. You can’t hurt the horse anymore so no harm, no foul. That being said, I’m going to talk about DeMarre Carroll again. In case you’ve been deep-sea fishing off the coast of New Zealand (do people fish there?) since the Eastern Conference Finals ended, you might remember that Carroll is no longer a member of the Atlanta Hawks.

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That’s right, Carroll is off to Winterfell to become warden of the north. In other words, he’s going to start at small forward for the Toronto Raptors. That leaves a glaring hole in Atlanta’s starting five. A starting five that was collectively named Eastern Conference Player of the Month in January. Breaking up that kind of continuity would be devastating under most circumstances.

I’ve mentioned several times how I believe losing Carroll is a big blow to Atlanta’s title hopes, but it doesn’t have to be. I may have made Carroll out to be more valuable than he actually was. Carroll fit into his role perfectly last season, but his defensive contributions seem to have been overblown. Sure, he’s versatile enough to guard several different positions, but did he guard them well last season? These numbers show that perhaps Carroll’s defensive prowess was a tad exaggerated.

With Carroll on the court last season, the Hawks allowed 104.5 points per 100 possessions. However, with Carroll off the court that number dropped to 101.5 points per 100 possessions. That is a concerning split for a player that is supposed to be your best perimeter defender. That’s not all. With Carroll on the court, the Hawks’ opponents had a higher rebounding rate and a higher effective field goal percentage. ESPN’s real plus/minus metric is also troubling for Carroll. Last season his defensive real plus/minus rating was -0.38, 37th best for small forwards in the NBA.

In his career Carroll’s defensive rating for an entire season has never been lower than 104. That’s not abysmal, but it’s not what you expect to see from a player that is deemed a lockdown defender. Carroll has been dubbed a true “3 and D” guy by many (even me), but it looks like the 3 part of the equation is the only part that is well above average.

So, while the Hawks will miss his offensive contributions in their starting lineup, Thabo Sefolosha may actually be an upgrade defensively. Sefolosha’s on/off stats last season were far superior to Carroll’s.

With Sefolosha on the court, the Hawks allowed only 97.6 points per 100 possessions, without him they gave up 105 points per 100 possessions. Sefolosha’s defensive real plus/minus numbers were outstanding as well. In 52 games his rating was +2.97, 5th best for small forwards.

During his final season with Oklahoma City, he was ranked 9th best for small forwards (+1.95) and his career defensive rating is 104, the same number as Carroll’s career best. Last season Sefolosha’s defensive rating was 100 and it has never been higher than 107 during a full season. Playing in an organization with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and at one point James Harden, led to his contributions being overshadowed. He will never be a noteworthy offensive player, but his defensive impact was huge for those Thunder teams that made successful playoff runs. The Hawks hope he’ll do the same for them this season.

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  • Sefolosha missed the end of the season due to a broken leg, so he ended up with 975 minutes played  over the course of the season. That’s not a huge sample size, especially when you consider that Carroll played 2188 minutes. With drastic differences in sample sizes that makes it tough to consider what to hold as gospel and what’s just noise.

    Of course, Sefolosha being an upgrade defensively over Carroll is contingent on Sefolosha being completely healthy. If he is fully recovered from his broken leg, he could have a massive impact on Atlanta’s defense. You can bet we’ll be tracking the play of Sefolosha and Carroll all season long to see just how closely they compare.

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