Emeka Okafor gets criticized often by New Orleans Hornets fans. I guess when they look around the league at some of the great big men that teams build for championships they get envious. But Okafor is no slouch, he’s actually a really great player, top at his position. He won’t produce big, traditional numbers, but he does his job by rebounding, blocking shots and playing solid defense.
Because he’s an undersized center he can sometimes get outplayed, but I think he holds his own.
Can he be a staple for a championship team? No, probably not. But he can be a starter on a championship, if that team has talent around him. The Hornets need to do as such giving offensive responsibility to a new two-guard, a resigned David West and Carl Landry as well as refreshed Chris Paul.
So let’s jump into Emeka Okafor’s season.
Emeka Okafor’s most outstanding performance was early on in the year. I don’t know why, but something tells me that the injury he suffered against the Phoenix Suns slowed him down some. But his best game was clearly against the Miami Heat at the New Orleans Arena.
His statline was as follows:
26 points on 13 shots (!), had 13 rebounds (4 offensive) and a blocked shot.
He faced zero competition, but he exploited his matchup (with the help of Chris Paul). I wish sometimes he would do it more often because he’s better than quite a few centers in the league.
The highlight play was when Okafor set a screen, rolled, Chris Paul floated the ball towards the rim and Emeka crushed it CCC style. It brought tears to some because it reminded all of the Tyson Chandler smashes that he received from CP all those years ago.
I think there’s one area of Okafor game that he needs to improve drastically in order for him to get more opportunites, and to make the offense function to a higher degree of efficiency. Well, there is several (free-throw shooting, jump-shooting to name a couple), but Emekatron needs to develop his pick and roll game with Chris Paul much better than it already is.
A problem he has is all too often he’ll try and set the perfect screen. Now, you say, “isn’t that what you want?” Well not all the time. When in the two man game, what will often happen is the opponents big man will try to trap, the opposing guard will fight through the screen, meaning the point guard will have two guys on him potentially leaving the screener open.
What Okafor does is he stays too long on the screen and doesn’t role to the basket. What this does, is that it means even if the hedge by the opposition isn’t perfect there is plenty of time to recover. What Emeka needs to learn to do is to fake the screen, or in other terms ‘slip’ it.
This will mean that when the big man hedges he’ll think that Emeka is still out setting the screen once the point guard uses the screen. If Emeka slips he’ll be relatively wide open, enough for Chris Paul to find him. If the opposition has a third helper this leaves shooters wide open on the ball rotation.
It’s just a little observation that I get annoyed at, because sometimes Okafor doesn’t role hard enough to the basket where he could receive plenty of lob passes, or lead passes.
Below is some examples of Emeka Okafor Pick and Roll that I was talking about. I decided not to do a voice-over because I didn’t receive the best feedback for that.
Looking Back On History
We looked back a while ago as to whether Emeka can be a playoff center (or someone you can use to win a championship in the starting lineup). That post had a tonne of statistical measures as to why Okafor can be expected to play much better than he did in his first ever NBA playoffs.
To me that table above outlines exactly why Emeka can be expected to play much better than he did in the playoffs. His number one strength, rebounding, was no where to be seen. He has to realize that getting extra possessions, getting one-and-done possessions on defense, is how you win playoff games. Yet the Lakers destroyed New Orleans on the boards, because Okafor was in foul-trouble, and because he didn’t seem to want to grab to many rebounds.
The contract situation with Emeka Okafor isn’t one that pleases to many fans. He’s locked in for a few more years, on a contract that elevates. For some he’s overpaid, others think he’s right where he should be. No matter what happens, Okafor needs to develop a bit more offensively in order to contribute. Defensively he’s about as good as anything as he led the resurgence on defense.
I think cynical Hornets fans need to remember what he brings when discarding him as an impact player. He really did do a fantastic job last season, and you need to appreciate that even if he left a sour taste in your mouth from the playoffs.
Season Grade (Measured in Awesome to the Max’s):
3 3/4 out of 5.