Atlanta Hawks: How Long Will Thabo Sefolosha Be Out?

How long will it be until the Atlanta Hawks’ defensive stopper returns to action?

The Atlanta Hawks are not whole right now. They are currently missing one of the most underrated pieces of their starting lineup. Thabo Sefolosha has missed his last six games, and he is currently expected to miss Friday night’s contest against the Sacramento Kings.

The Hawks are 4-2 over those six games, but they clearly miss his presence on the defensive end of the court. Sefolosha is not flashy offensively, he averages 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game on 45.7 percent shooting, but his defensive impact cannot be overstated.

Atlanta allows 105.1 points per 100 possessions with Sefolosha on the court and 108.3 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

In his absence, the Hawks have allowed point totals of 139 (in four overtimes), 116, 108, 120, and 106. They also allowed 112 points to the Washington Wizards during which Sefolosha left early due to injury.

Graham Chapple of Hawks Hoop dropped these nuggets of information in a recent piece about Sefolosha’s impact on Atlanta’s defense.

Before this five game absence, the Hawks conceded 103.2 points per game which ranked ninth in the entire league. In their last five game without Thabo, the Hawks — on average — have conceded 113.8 points per game, ranking 26th in the league over that stretch. Obviously, the 4OT game against the Knicks where the Hawks conceded 139 points does skew this stat slightly, but not by a whole lot.

In terms of overall defensive rating before this five game stretch, the Hawks conceded 103 points per 100 possessions, ranking fifth in the league. In their last five games without Thabo, the Hawks have conceded 105.5 points per 100 possessions, ranking 13th in the league. Now, this isn’t a huge drop off but it’s a drop off nevertheless.

Chapple also noted that Atlanta has seen their opponent’s best wing scorers go off against the Hawks without Sefolosha to stop them. That list includes Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Dion Waiters, and Gordon Hayward.

It may not be killing them right now, but long-term it wouldn’t be surprising if Sefolosha’s absence had significant negative impact on their overall defense. Of course, six games is a relatively small sample size, but Sefolosha’s career is filled with data showing how he positively impacts defenses.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has filled in nicely for Sefolosha in the starting lineup, thanks to his offensive explosion, but there isn’t another player on the roster that can match his defensive contributions. Kent Bazemore and DeAndre’ Bembry are doing their best to patch the holes on the perimeter, but it hasn’t been easy.

Mike Budenholzer doesn’t seem to know for sure when exactly Sefolosha will be healthy enough to return to the lineup, or even get limited minutes in the rotation. On Feb. 8 he told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they were changing their approach with his rehab.

“Every game or every day we were ramping him up and seeing if he could get ready and if he would be available,” Budenholzer said Wednesday before the Hawks hosted the Nuggets. “I think we are backing off how much we ramp him up and maybe say let’s take a few days and a few games and see if the less workload and less ramp-up can that get him to where he is ready to go here shortly.”

With three games remaining before the All-Star break there is a limited window of time in which to bring him back. At this point the best option may be to wait until after the break to bring him back. Although, bringing him back slowly next week would mean he’s closer to full strength once the second “half” of the season starts. This is why I’m not doctor.

The only thing that is certain is that the Hawks need Sefolosha back and healthy if they’re going to do anything significant in the playoffs. “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”, sang Joni Mitchell. If Hawks fans didn’t realize it before, they realize it now. Thabo Sefolosha is a huge part of this Hawks team and their success.

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