Jacob Raim | WashingtonWizards.com
Stats: 9.7 PPG | 8.8 RPG | 1.2 APG | .97 BPG | .477 FG%
IMPACT ON THE TEAM
When the Wizards acquired Emeka Okafor last offseason, they were obtaining a player entering his age 30 season and coming off a season with New Orleans in which he only managed to play 27 games. So, for a team that was hit with a major wave of injuries, it was a pleasant surprise that Okafor was the team's most consistent and durable performer, appearing in 79 games and starting 77 of them while finishing third on the team in PER (Wall and Nene finished first and second). The Wizards traded for Okafor when his value was relatively low, and they were rewarded as he returned to his '09-'10 and '10-'11 levels of production when he was a starter with New Orleans.
Okafor is a slightly undersized center who gets the most out of his size by being fundamentally sound on defense and on the boards and having a very high basketball IQ. He anchored the Wizards’ top ten defense and posted an elite defensive rebounding rate of 26.3%, the highest of his career. Okafor was a double-double machine the second half of the year, recording 20 double-double games and averaging just under nine boards a game for the year. The Wizards’ defense allowed one point less per 100 possession when Okafor was on the court, but that doesn't do justice to the job he did on the defensive end. When Okafor played next to Nene last year, the Wizards’ defensive rating was about equal to the league leading Pacers. While he averaged just under a block per game, he alters a lot more shots than he blocks and was an effective rim protector in the paint. Okafor also was effective in defending the pick and roll, primarily thanks to his ability to read the offense and to find great positioning.
During stretches when the Wizards were missing their biggest scorers last year, the offense ran through Okafor much of the time. This was not a role to which he was accustomed, as he fits better as a complimentary scorer who finishes around the rim. For the year, Okafor shot .477, his lowest rate since his second year in the league. That can largely be attributed to his having to play a bit out of his comfort zone, being forced to play away from the basket more than he would like and also seeing some double teams. During 2010-11 (his last full season before this one), Okafor took only 29 midrange jumpers; but this past season, he took 228, a number which the Wizards would assuredly like to see come down significantly in 2013-14. Okafor is at his most effective around the basket, not being pulled away from the hoop. He finished at a 70.2% clip at the rim, a solid number but one which I'm sure he would like to see a bit higher. In fact, it likely will be higher this year as the team will have more healthy offensive weapons around him and he should get more easy buckets. Last year, after Wall came back, Okafor's defender was often forced away from him as Wall got into the lane, freeing Okafor up for a lot of open looks. Interestingly, Okafor actually led the NBA in FG% on hook shots, at 74.5%.
Finally, we get to Okafor's off the court contributions. There were very few vets on the 2012-13 iteration of the Wizards, so Okafor at age 30 and with eight prior years of NBA experience filled a big leadership role on the squad. Late in February when the team was in a lull, Okafor stepped up and challenged John Wall who was unhappy. This prompted Wall to start playing his best basketball of the year. Okafor ended up being nominated for a new award, the “Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award,” which Chauncey Billups eventually won.
Okafor's role on defense will assuredly be the same this coming year. He will anchor a defensive unit the Wizards can only hope was as effective as last year's. Offensively, Okafor will almost certainly spend much more time around the rim, getting easy finishes as Wall, Beal and Nene create open looks for him. While the Wizards are a year more experienced, Okafor will continue to lead on and off the court and help to develop the young front court players. This is the last year on Okafor's contract, and at this point , it's anybody's guess what happens in free agency. But that crystal ball gazing is looking too far into the future. For the upcoming season, Wittman will have no question as to who his starting center is each night. If the Wizards make the jump to being a playoff team, Okafor will no doubt play a huge part in this.