SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it’s the smooth Swiss French accent, the ever-present Nike Air Max 90s or his easy-going attitude.
But whatever it is, Utah Jazz players show much respect to 12-year veteran Thabo Sefolosha.
Sure, he’s not the league-leading shot blocker like Rudy Gobert, an all-pro trash-talker like Joe Ingles or a fun-loving rookie like Donovan Mitchell.
The 6-foot-7 forward logs valuable minutes off the bench, but more importantly, when he speaks, players listen.
In Utah’s 5-5 start, Sefolosha has assumed an early leadership role. He knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off with guys during pivotal stretches.
“I think there’s a thin line, especially when a guy misses a few shots, sometimes you want to be left alone,” Sefolosha said. “But other than that, it’s always good to give an input here and there for a young guy or if Jonas (Jerebko) comes in the game when he hasn’t played in a while and makes his first shot so everybody’s happy for him.
“We just want to keep everybody’s spirit up.”
After suffering a 137-110 loss to Houston Sunday, the Jazz are looking to do anything they can to keep their heads high as they host Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Utah is one of three teams in the league that has yet to win a road game, joining Dallas and Brooklyn.
“Anytime you get beat the way we did tonight, there is a lot to fix,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the Houston loss. “We didn’t play like this against the Clippers or the Suns. This was different.”
Sefolosha makes a conscious effort to be vocal during timeouts, based off his experience as the team works to build defensive habits and unselfishness. If you watch him during games, Sefolosha always has something positive to say to people in both visible and subtle ways no matter how many minutes he plays.
“Leadership is something that can’t be forced,” Snyder said. “I think people have to want to follow you. You have to be able to lead them a direction that’s productive and his experience and intelligence allow him to.”
Mitchell likely benefits the most from Sefolosha’s presence. When Sefolosha signed with the Jazz as a free agent this offseason, the former Louisville star knew he wanted to pick his brain.
“It goes from everything like how he carries himself off the court to even how he dresses,” Mitchell said. “I kind of steal some of the stuff he wears.
“He’s just a great leader,” he added. “We’re in that second group together so when he sees something on the floor, he will come right to the bench and tell us what he sees and how we correct it.”
Snyder describes Sefolosha as a willing team guy.
His leadership comes from experience mixed with intelligence and willingness.
Utah isn’t expecting him to get 20 points per night, but in his 20 minutes per game, the defensive specialist averages 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds with a player efficiency rating of 15.17.
“We’re not asking everyone to buy into themselves, we’re asking them to forgo a meal so that someone else can have a larger portion and that’s hard,” Snyder said. “A lot of this fights human nature.”