As Joe Gerrity at Hornets247.com pointed out, any injury could be particularly devastating for the Hornets. Well on Sunday night against the Suns one happened: Emeka Okafor will be out for 3 weeks with a grade 2 strain in his left oblique muscle. This ends his consecutive games streak at 306 which started March 24th 2007. Let’s take a look at what this means for the Hornets…
-Okafor is arguably the most irreplaceable player for the Hornets. Even if Chris Paul went down for a few weeks they have Jarrett Jack (a former starter in Toronto) to back him up (no matter how poorly he has played in the last few games). Behind Okafor we have Jason Smith, DJ Mbenga, Aaron Gray and David Andersen. It’s a far cry from the bigs that Sacramento has.
-Okafor’s PER is 16.6 which is not terribly high (the league average is always 15). But, it is far better than Smith (10.1), Mbenga (10.0), Gray (8.1) and Andersen (5.8). That is an incredibly significant drop off.
-Okafor’s Defensive Win Shares is at 3.1 tied for 3rd in the league. Only Dwight Howard and CP3 have a better DWS. And per 100 possessions he only gives up 99 points. That helps the Hornets give up only 91.7 points per game good for 2nd in the league.
-While the Hornets give up 91.7 they only score 94.8 (26th in the league). It’s a difference of only 3.1 points. Okafor averages a double double a game. His offensive rating is 113, second highest on the team behind Chris Paul. It goes down from there with only Gray topping 100 (at 102 which is more attributed to small sample size than him actually being good). For a team whose offense is already as scary as puppies, the Hornets will really miss his scoring.
-Not only are opposing big men going to feast on the Hornets for the next three weeks (see: Gortat, Marcin) but guards are going to be having field days as well. Russell Westbrook has to be salivating at the idea of no one clogging the lane and stopping him from going to the rim. Tyreke Evans got everything he wanted in the 4th quarter on Saturday; imagine what he could have done without Okafor to at least be a body in the way. The Hornet’s pick and roll defense will need to be particularly strong, too.
-I’m also curious to see the pace the Hornets will play with. Currently the Hornets average 89.2 possessions a game which is 28 out of 30 teams. They play sloooow. Now that Okafor is out will Monty Williams run a small lineup more (highly likely) and play with a higher tempo?
-Luckily, Okafor is only out for 3 weeks. The season will not be lost over that period. It does give the backup bigs a chance to show and prove themselves. Let’s hope they rise to the challenge.