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NBA Daily: Thabo Sefolosha Reflects On Longevity

Basketball Insiders’ David Yapkowitz chats with Thabo Sefolosha about defending and staying in the NBA for so long.

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With the amount of talent filling the college basketball ranks every year — as well as the number of domestic-born players overseas and the foreign-born players wanting to match up against the best — NBA roster spots are constantly in flux.

Even players with guaranteed contracts are seemingly no longer assured of a roster spot each season. Heck, lottery picks have been traded after only a season or two with the team that drafted them. Although a bit more uncommon, teams have shown a willingness to eat a guaranteed salary in favor of a player who outperformed his non-guaranteed deal.

Needless to say, making an NBA roster is a grind.

Including two-way contracts, there are only 510 roster spots available with thousands upon thousands of players hoping for an opportunity. It may sound like a cliché but it really does take a lot of work and dedication to keep an NBA roster spot.

Thabo Sefolosha knows all about that.

In the midst of his 14th year in the league, he’s wary as to how tough it is to make it in the NBA. But, after all these years, Sefolosha has put in the time working on his craft as well making sure he is properly fit to compete against the world’s best players.

Even if he knows he isn’t going to play, he makes sure that he’s ready at a moment’s notice.

“I think understanding my role and trying to be as solid as possible within that role has helped,” Sefolosha told Basketball Insiders. “Other than that, making sure I’m taking care of my body and that I’m ready to go pretty much every night.”

Sefolosha’s professional career actually began long before he even set foot on an NBA court. A native of Switzerland, he began as a teenager with Tege Riviera Basket, one of the top leagues in the country. Then, Sefolosha also spent a couple of years playing in France and Italy before coming to the NBA with more mileage than the average American college player.

The Philadelphia 76ers drafted him with the 13th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and traded his rights to the Chicago Bulls. He played three seasons in Chicago, plus stops with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz and now the Houston Rockets.

He’s seen his role change throughout his career — from being a starting-caliber player on a playoff contender in Oklahoma City to role player off the bench and providing second unit stability.

“It’s changed from being in the starting five to being more of a role player,” Sefolosha said. “It’s being more vocal because I have some experience. Over the course of the years, you just have to adjust and adapt. That’s been the main thing for me.”

The majority of players in the NBA were big-time stars in either high school, college, or both. They’re used to having the offense run through them and getting a lot of shots up. Once you get to a certain level, however, everyone can score. Finding a role and being able to maintain that role becomes key to keeping a roster spot.

Sefolosha has done that to perfection.

When he was playing with the Thunder, the Swiss international started ahead of James Harden, whom Oklahoma City preferred to bring off the bench, and he brought perimeter defense and three-point shooting to the lineup.

At 35 years old, he remains a useful defensive player on the wing. Still being able to match up with some of the top scorers in the league was a large factor in the Rockets signing him. With the Los Angeles Clippers’ acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, among other franchises, an extra perimeter stopper was a necessity.

Cooler, Sefolosha is a career 35.2 percent shooter from three-point range and hitting at 34.4 percent this season. That’s down from the 43.6 percent he shot with the Jazz last year, but still enough to make defenses need to worry about him on the perimeter.

When he’s matched up against the top wing scorers in the NBA, he knows it’s going to be difficult to fully stop them. He just tries to make them work as best he can for every point they score.

“That’s how I made a name for myself and stayed in this league for as long as I have. You try to learn guys’ tendencies as best as possible,” Sefolosha told Basketball Insiders.

“Know what they like to do and make it tough on them. When you guard good players in this league, they’re going to make shots, they’re going to have decent games. You just try to make it tough on them.”

As far as how long he thinks he’ll continue to play in the NBA? He isn’t certain. What he does know is that this Rockets team is very good and most certainly a contender in the tough Western Conference. Sefolosha, ultimately, feels as if he has a shot at a ring and that’s what he’s focused on at the moment.

“I’m not sure. I feel blessed to be here and happy to be able to go for this long. I’m definitely taking it season-by-season and even game-by-game,” Sefolosha said.

“That’s my mindset at this point, just to enjoy it and hopefully go all the way with this team. We got a good group of guys, so we’ll see what happens.”

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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