Through 15 the New Orleans Hornets have had a profound impact on this year’s NBA season. Many commentators and analysts have been surprised by the Hornets brief success thinking they would be a fringe playoff team. Chris Paul no doubt is the primary reason that the team is playing so well. Add in David West’s All Star resurgence and it’s safe to say that New Orleans is a playoff team.
The impact of the Hornets role players is the reason their record is 12-3 and not 10-5. Trevor Ariza‘s defense has been a huge help to the new Monty Williams system, Marco Belinelli has showcased his ability to knock down three’s and be the new Peja Stojakovic, but it is Emeka Okfaor‘s play that has this team positioned to secure a top 4 spot in the Western Conference.
I say “positioned” because we all know that this is November wins here are as meaningful as wins in the off-season, they don’t have the same impact as a win in March.
Though through the past three games Okafor has played dreadfully. He looks like Hilton Armstrong trying to finish around the rim and it’s no surprise as both of them went to Connecticut a school renowned for developing athletic-defensive minded bigmen.
But taking the recent bitter with the sweet, nectarous play of Emeka’s first 10 games and you understand just how important he is to the team.
While it’s impeccable that Chris Paul continues to play well, it is Okafor that is essential to a days victory or loss. Over the past three games the Hornets have gone 1-2 and Okafor has a stat-line that follows:
But here’s the stat-line for the first three games of November:
While it’s true that these are only small sample sizes it just goes to show you that Emeka Okafor’s play can be the difference between 1-2 and 3-0. His Wins Share per 48 is 0.144 which is third highest on the team, but where I think he adds the most value is in the points in the paint allowed category.
In the losses to the Clippers and Jazz the Hornets gave up 50 and 44 points in the paint respectively to those teams. Conversely the team gave up just 28 points in the paint to the Blazers last night. In the three losses of the season Emeka has averaged 1.3 blocks per-game, in the wins he has averaged 2.2 per-game. The connection is simple, the defensive play hinges on Okafors ability to guard the paint.
Against the Jazz it was terrible watching the Hornets try to play defense. Utah passed the ball effectively and with ease finding men around the hoop. They did this by running multiple pick and rolls getting the Hornets big-men out on the perimeter leaving uncontested layups at the basket.
While wins will ultimately be credited to Chris Paul it is Okafor’s play that really makes this team work. Quantifying his value can be done through a wins per-share measure but we need to understand his value in terms of points in the paint and FG%. If he is getting points in the paint as well as defending the lane on the other end the Hornets play a much more well-rounded game. Individually Okafor’s performance on the offensive end is just as important as his role on the defensive end. If we take a look at Okafor’s field goal number’s usually equates to a lower points in the paint performance.
In the loss to the Mavericks Okafor played dismally but still defended the paint reasonably well (Dallas shot the lights out as demonstrated by the follow up game with 24 points in the paint). Against the Clippers Okafor played well offensively but was terrible defensively and the Jazz game showed that once again the defense was weak. The two highest points in the paint totals came in two losses. Okafor’s consistency is somewhat of a concern heading into the thick of the season because he needs to be the ferocious shot-blocker we all know he can be.
To summarise I think we need to understand the importance of a bigman to most playoff teams. The Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Spurs, Mavericks and Jazz all have bigmen capable of taking their teams far into the season. For the Hornets a big criticism of the team is lack of size on the floor and it’s a fair one too. Emeka against a measuring stick is a fine 6 foot 10, but he needs to play above his height. He has a tendency to not finish around the basket as well as not being able to alter shots the way that say a Tyson Chandler does.
He’ll never be Tyson, but Tyson will never be Okafor. The big oak needs to add his value on the offensive end by not only getting rebounds but putting them away. In addition he needs to man the paint like a crazed Australian Magpie defending itself and it’s eggs.
Mekaokafor has the talent, he just needs to realize it’s importance to the Hornets success.