Why The New Orleans Hornets Need Emeka Okafor

Emeka Okafor is one of the more polarizing Hornets' players

How’s everyone doing deep into this NBA lockout? Going a little stir crazy? I know I am. Anyway, I bet a couple (many) of you are going to be a little upset at that title, huh? I know he’s not the most popular Hornet, has a bloated contract and is criticized a lot—both fairly and unfairly, but without Emeka Okafor, the Hornets are hanging out deep in lottery territory. Let’s do this…

First and foremost let’s get the contract talk out of the way. For the 2011-12 season, Okafor is due to be paid $12,492,500.00 (his salary increases by about a million for the 2012-13 season). It’s a lot of money, no doubt, but this isn’t one of those Gilbert Arena-Antawn Jamison-Rashard Lewis-type of contracts. Okafor actually provides good (you could even say strong) production.

The lovely basketball-reference.com lets you do a search based on certain parameters. I decided to search by 30 or more minutes per game, 10 or more points per game and 9 or more total rebounds per game. Here is the list of players who had those types of numbers this past season. Sorting that list by win shares, Okafor comes in at 9th. That’s pretty good company to be in if you’re a center. Furthermore, the Wages of Wins blog has Okafor as the 107th most underpaid player and the 436th overpaid player. Going by their formula (which is by no means definitive), Okafor is actually more underpaid then overpaid.  Okafor might not be in the elite center category, but he probably is somewhere in the level below that.

Regardless of where he fits into the rankings of NBA centers, I could even make an argument that Okafor is more important to the Hornets on-court success next season than Chris Paul. I know you’re thinking I’m crazy, but this argument is based off depth at the center position more than Okafor’s talent. If Chris Paul goes down with an extended injury, Jarrett Jack is capable of stepping in and keeping the team competitive. If Okafor goes down, well, do you remember that stretch in February the Hornets went 3-7 without him? It wasn’t pretty.

While Okafor was hurt, Jason Smith had one good game against the Wizards onFebruary 1st. But after that, the center position was decent at best. There is simply no depth behind Okafor. Smith is just not capable of being a starting center. Per 36 minutes he would only average 8 total rebounds (Okafor would have 11) and according to 82games.com only 18% of Smith’s shots are taken in the paint. Okafor by comparison takes 68% of his attempts inside. Personally, I prefer centers to play underneath the rim. Smith is a jump shooting power forward and nothing else. Aaron Gray has decent looking numbers per 36 minutes (11.6 rebounds and 8.7 points) but he’s nothing more than a backup.

Take a look at these stats from 82games.com. Based off the +/- statistic, Okafor has 43 wins and 26 losses. His 62.3 winning percentage is second only to Chris Paul’s 64%. I know +/- is not the best stat to go by (I prefer going by the +/- of a unit), but that is still shows his value to the team.

Should the Hornets decide to get rid of Okafor there is almost no replacement. Right now the team has very few assets, other than Chris Paul, to trade. In free agency, there is no affordable replacement. Yes, Okafor was embarrassed in the playoffs, and has a contract which is a little too much, but even with all that, the Hornets could be doing a whole lot worse. I know some of you will disagree, so let us know in the comments below.

I’m going to go non-metal (WHAT?!?!) and a little more relaxed this morning…

Topics: Aaron Gray, Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Jason Smith, New Orleans Hornets

Want more from Pelican Debrief?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.
  • daThRONe

    Those number are miss leading. While Okafor may be better than Gray and more durable, being a small market team ever dollar count(especially now we’re looking at strict cap). Back to the numbers. You can’t look at the numbers yet look at how he got them. He doesn’t consistently create his own. Getting trash/easy points are important but there is a laundry list of players that can give us similar scoring production for a tenth the price. As for rebounds who else on this team is a great rebounder? Any decent rebounder should be able to average 8-11 rebounds as the squad was constructed.

    There’s no way moving forward we can have Okafor making 8 figures, and plan on being anything more than a middle of the pack team.

  • Mr. West

    I agree completely. Too many of our fans are quick to say trade okafor for table scraps and cap space. The thing is that the free agent center market isnt exactly stacked with centers. A team needs a good post defender in order to even stay middle of the pack and the only people on the market i would even compare oak to are Gasol Nene Chandler and Dalembert. If we could get any of those then yes dump okafor for cap space but if we cant then who would we start? Kwame Brown? I personally think we can build a contending tram around okafor but it will be tough. If you disagree thats fair but you cant just haye okafor because of his contract. He is a core member of our squad for better or worse.

  • Mr. West

    Oh and this is a post from my droid so sorry if the grammar isnt top notch. Peace.

  • daThRONe

    We don’t need 12.5million going toward a center that can’t be dominant on one end of the ball or the other, or isn’t atleast affective on both sides. If Emeka was affective like he is on offense like he is on defense I wouldn’t have a problem, but way too often he’s an offensive liability. He has to go!

  • lottoni81

    Okafor barely knows to attack the basket. He is simply ridiculous in the attack. Sorry, but I can not agree that he is essential to the Hornets. And besides, he was terrible in all six games of the playoffs. Receives a lot of money and has a paltry offensive production. We must get rid of it.

  • JakeMadison

    I’m not saying he’s essential because of how he plays (though I do certainly think he is criticized so much that he may have become an underrated player), he is essential because there is simply no one else. Gasol, Nene, Chandler and Dalembert are all not coming to New Orleans. The team will be looking at players like Przybilla. Do you think the team will have more success with him as the starting center than Okafor?

    When Dwight Howard is a free agent next year, he will not be signing with the Hornets. Today in his chat, Larry Coon could not think of one example where a marquee free agent went to a small market team. There is no one on the Hornets team (other than Paul) who has enough trade value to net the team a center better than Okafor.

    Say the team hypothetically gets rid of Okafor. Let’s say it’s either in a salary dumping move where they get no one of any real value in return, or the team manages to pull in a decent scoring 2 guard. Who plays center then? Gray is not certain to come back. Even if he signs a new contract with the team, he’s far worse than Okafor is. Okafor’s value comes from his defense and the fact that there is no other semi-decent option.

  • daThRONe

    @JakeMadison Yes I want Joel Przybilla at 2-3 million than Okafor at 12.5 million. How are we a small market team suppose to put together a championship team giving that guy 12.5 million?

    The whole “small market team can’t aquire superstar talent” will change if the CBA is more small market friendly. So if Dwight wants to come here there’s no reason why we couldn’t work some deal that would. I put a deal together that would work if Dwight wanted to come here. http://www.hornets247.com/journals/2011/07/26/2011-12-off-season-moves-pt-1-save-us-superman/

    My dream center is DeAndre Jordan. Once again with a small market friendly CBA the Hornets with the cap space we have and will gain moving Okafor would give us a leg up this offseason. We have the best PG, a great city to live in, and we’ll be able to offer the most competitive salaries. Teams like the NYK and Celtics won’t be able to offer as much as we by a lot. And Sterling is a cheapskate so I don’t see him being to hard to out bet.

  • lottoni81

    @daThRONe@JakeMadison DeAndre Jordan is an excellent choice. He is a cheaper player and has potential. I love this center and I think he would match much better with CP3 than Okafor. And I think to pay 12.5 million for Emeka is a setback. We need to get rid of that horrible contract.

  • daThRONe

    @lottoni81@JakeMadison With the lack of talent at the center spot throughout the league having a serviceable center is enough. No need to over pay a guy at that spot especially one as limited as Emeka.

    I’m sure if we get a cap ceiling under 75mil an offer some where in the neighborhood of 7.5mil a year would gain us his services. Under that could of strict cap that would be over paying for Jordan and still would be 5mil less than Okafor.

    I just don’t see anyway we can continue to give that kind of money to Okafor and compete for a title none.

  • JakeMadison

    @daThRONe@lottoni81 I would love Jordan on the team but he is a restricted free agent and I high doubt the Clippers will let him go.

  • daThRONe

    @JakeMadison@lottoni81

    We’re talking about Donald Sterling here. You think he’s willing to pay DeAndre Jordan big money? I don’t care if DJ and Blake Griffin are joined at the hip.

  • Mr. West

    @daThRONe @JakeMadison @lottoni81 they’re pretty convinced on keeping him. I mean you can’t say he was cheap in the past so they will be in the future. It doesn’t work that way. He has a serious chance at winning with blake so yeah, I imagine. They will spend a buttload on keeping Blake happy.

  • daThRONe

    @Mr. West@JakeMadison@lottoni81

    If an owners has proven that he doesn’t care about winning only making the the largest profit. On top of being notoriously cheap. Why would I think that would change over night?

  • JakeMadison

    @daThRONe@Mr. West@lottoni81 With regards to Sterling: I agree that he is a terrible owner who has been cheap for most of his reign, however, given the right circumstances, namely the Clippers becoming very competitive and not just a 5th seed, he has shown that he is willing to spend.

    Remember he gave Baron Davis a huge contract to lure him away from Golden State in 2008. That same year he also offered Elton Brand a gigantic contract as well. Brand bolted for the 76ers but it still showed that Sterling is willing to spend.

    More recently, Sterling was willing to sign Bosh, Wade and Lebron this past summer. I also believe the Clippers spoke with Amare as well. Same thing with Rudy Gay. They were seriously trying to sign him before he received the contract from Memphis

  • lottoni81

    @JakeMadison@daThRONe@Mr. West Will that Sterling wouldn’t be interested in Okafor? DeAndre Jordan + Eric Gordon + Al-Farouq Aminu + Eric Bledsoe for Emeka Okafor + Jarrett Jack + Marco Belinelli + pick (second round). What do you think?

  • Mr. West

    @daThRONe

    He was cheap as a loser. You can’t predict what he will do now that he has a taste of winning. Winning can change anyones mind. Will it? Who knows. But I know I can’t just say after Blake was (easily) rookie of the year, that Sterling won’t want to keep him on board. So in response to the question “what would change that over night?” I would say Blake could very easily be the answer to that question.