NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 24: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives between Emeka Okafor #50 and Trevor Ariza #1 of the New Orleans Hornets in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at New Orleans Arena on April 24, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
In acquiring Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, the Wizards have clearly set their sights on winning games with defense. Both players have strong defensive reputations, as Mike pointed out. But are the two newest Wizards actually as good defensively as their reputation? With the help of MySynergySports.com, let’s take a look at Ariza’s and Okafor’s defensive abilities and what to expect for next season.
While Ariza is known as a top notch defender, he didn’t get that reputation by stopping scorers in isolation. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, he ranked 260th and 270th, respectively, in the NBA in points allowed per isolation possession. This past season, he did much better (84th), but he only saw 30 isolation possessions. He obviously has the physical tools to be a great isolation defender, but he still needs to do it over a full season.
On the other hand, Ariza has succeeded in off-the-ball defense. Over the past three seasons, Ariza has been consistently good at defending players who are running off screens. In the 2011-12 season, he ranked 16th in the league in points allowed per screening possession. Ariza did a pretty good job of fighting over and around screens to get in the shooter’s face. His length and athletic ability really come in handy here.
While Ariza excelled at getting around screens, he did get burned by some of the better players in the league when he tried to shoot the gap and go under the screens. In the video below, check out how Ariza gets stuck on the screens as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant read his defense and fade away from the screen.
Another part of off-ball defense is defending spot-up shooters. Ariza was solid in his recovery to spot-up shooters, ranking 87th in the NBA in points allowed per spot-up possession (Sidenote: Synergy’s defensive spot-up numbers can be a little misleading because it is difficult to assign responsibility for a particular spot-up shooter.) The defensive player will always be at a disadvantage in a spot-up situation. They can close out slowly and allow an open jumper, or they can sprint at the shooter and give up a driving lane.
Again, Ariza’s physical gifts really help him shut down spot-up shooters. Check out the clips below, as Ariza plays help defense in the lane and recovers to block his man’s shot. It’s not often you see a player cover that much ground, even in the NBA.
Emeka Okafor is another player that has built a strong defensive reputation over his career. Okafor is known for his interior defense and is usually among the league leaders in block percentage. However, that shot blocking ability doesn’t reflect his post defense ability. He has been an inconsistent post defender, ranking 233rd, 85th, and 157th in points allowed per post possession in each of the past three seasons.
One matchup to watch out for next season is when Okafor faces off against Dwight Howard. Howard absolutely destroyed Okafor in 2011-12, scoring or getting fouled on 10 out of his 13 post-ups. The video below shows how Okafor had a tough time handling Howard’s combination of strength and agility.
Diagnosing Okafor’s pick-and-roll defense is difficult because one can’t be exactly sure as to how Monty Williams wants to defend particular matchups. Despite it not being completely clear, Okafor was consistent in hanging back and trying to contain the ball handler, as opposed to hedging hard or trapping the ball handler. This makes sense because Okafor probably isn't quick enough to hedge and recover to the open man.
In an attempt to keep the ball handler in front of him, Okafor gives up open jumpers. The video below shows some examples of Okafor giving up open jumpers to point guards in the pick-and-roll.
Another problem with Okafor’s soft pick-and-roll defense is that it gives the point guard a clear look at the defense. The video below shows Okafor hanging back and trying to clog the lane, but with no ball pressure, the point guard can pick his spot to find his roll man.
The Wizards acquired two defensive veterans, but only Ariza seems to bring the defensive abilities that the Wizards need. Okafor’s weakness in the post and in the pick-and-roll makes me skeptical as to how he will fit in with the other members of the frontcourt. Okafor had injury problems this past year, but he has struggled during healthy years, as well.