Evaluating Emeka: What Does Okafor Bring to the Table?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 06: Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball over Emeka Okafor #50 of the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on January 6, 2012 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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Great centers are almost impossible to come by. There are currently only two truly elite two way centers who can play major minutes - Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum - with a second tier of good but not great players like Andrew Bogut, Nene and Tyson Chandler.

After this group of maybe a half dozen players, there just aren't that many centers who most great teams would feel comfortable with as starters. Al Jefferson can score but can't defend and has never been on an overachieving team, Andrea Bargnani scores and spaces the floor but doesn't defend or rebound, Brook Lopez doesn't rebound or pass, Kendrick Perkins isn't a great rebounder any more and is an awful offensive player, and on and on.

So where among his peers does Emeka Okafor stand? He's a defense and rebounding specialist with a limited offensive game who struggles with big post players. That doesn't land him in the elite of the NBA's big man community, but as a pure center who rebounds and defends, he can provide a major boost to a team in need of a defensive presence in the middle, and that's actually a lot of teams.

Overpaid as he may be, Okafor has value, and his compensation is fairer than people think. After the jump, we'll get into just how valuable to the Washington Wizards he'll be next year.

Post scoring is nice, but in today's NBA, offense begins and ends with perimeter players and power forwards. With almost every good perimeter player able to get into the paint at will and an increase in defensively-challenged undersized power forwards, the importance of a center who can rotate properly and provide help defense while owning the glass has never been greater. Okafor will never be a scorer, but these defensive skills are his specialty, and even if teams don't value them, they really should.

Statistically, Okafor is fairly unremarkable, both for better and for worse.

Basic Statistics, Per 40 Minutes and Adjusted for Pace, via Draft Express

Year

Team

GP

Min

Pts

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

Off

TOT

Asts

Stls

Blks

TOs

PFs

2004/05

Bobcats

73

35.6

16.5

15.0

44.7

5.1

60.9

4.1

11.9

1.0

0.9

1.9

1.9

3.2

2005/06

Bobcats

26

33.7

15.0

13.8

41.5

5.5

65.6

4.1

11.4

1.4

1.0

2.2

2.3

3.8

2006/07

Bobcats

67

34.8

16.2

12.5

53.2

5.0

59.3

4.3

12.8

1.3

1.0

2.9

1.9

3.5

2007/08

Bobcats

82

33.2

16.6

12.6

53.4

5.5

57.0

3.7

12.8

1.0

0.9

2.0

2.4

3.5

2008/09

Bobcats

82

32.8

16.5

11.7

56.1

5.6

59.3

4.2

12.6

0.8

0.7

2.1

2.2

3.8

2009/10

Hornets

82

28.9

14.3

11.0

53.1

4.6

56.2

4.2

12.5

0.9

0.9

2.1

1.9

3.7

2010/11

Hornets

72

31.7

13.5

9.5

57.3

4.7

56.2

4.2

12.4

0.8

0.7

2.3

2.2

4.2

2011/12

Hornets

27

28.9

14.0

11.3

53.3

3.9

51.4

3.7

11.2

1.3

0.8

1.4

1.9

3.8

All of these numbers are pretty standard for an average starting center. While mediocrity is typically looked at as a bad thing, the opposite actually becomes the good thing when there are so few quality centers. Sure, it would be great if Okafor could pass better or score more, but he's still more well-rounded than a Joel Anthony or even Kendrick Perkins.

Digging a bit deeper, you can find evidence of Okafor's defensive value, which is his true trump card. Last year was a down year, as he dealt with injuries and had little motivation to go all out every night due to the Hornets' poor record and lack of talent. He posted poor on court/off court numbers last year, but again, motivation and his situation probably had a lot to do with it. Before then, he had been the anchor of some very solid Charlotte defenses and an elite one in New Orleans during Chris Paul's last season, in which he held opposing centers to a PER of 14.4, which was especially impressive considering his true specialty is as a help defender as opposed to a man to man post stopper. His ratings according to MySynergySports.com hold true to this, too, as he was only 60th in the league as a defender against post ups, but was in the top 25 of the league guarding both pick and rolls and isolations.

While his production isn't elite, it's actually solid considering his pay. He may not be worth $13 million, but he produces like a solid starting center, most of which make roughly $10 million (DeAndre Jordan, Anderson Varejao, pre-amnesty Brendan Haywood, Perkins, etc). As a result, he actually could be attractive to a lot of teams, particularly veteran ones whose bigs are likely to go down with injuries.

Washington is fortunate, too. While Okafor will prove to be a valuable player next year and should help to limit Nene's minutes, he'll also provide insurance against a number of things that could go wrong. Kevin Seraphin has had some struggles with his weight in the past, while Jan Vesely looked heavy in the NBA Summer League, so it's entirely possible one or both don't show up to training camp in shape. Additionally, when they play center, they need to anchor a defense and do a multitude of things on both ends of the floor, many of which don't show up in the box score. While their heads and hearts seem to be in the right place, the more detail-oriented parts of basketball tend to be hard for younger players to pick up. Having Okafor, an eight year veteran with playoff experience, around to both offer guidance and on-court relief should be extremely helpful, especially in the beginning of the season due to rust that both players will have accumulated.

Long term, both Vesely and Seraphin have the length to play at least some minutes in the middle, making Okafor more of a luxury than a core piece of a young team. As a result, the team will probably be in a position in which trading him would be extremely doable and might not even hurt the on court product, even if they get little in return. While this won't happen very soon, it's entirely possible that for the right offer, Okafor could wind up on the trading block by the middle of the season.

There are plenty of teams out there who would benefit from having Okafor, and Washington is one of them. What, if anything, the Wizards get for him in a trade is hard to predict, but his currently underrated production and on-court value make him an asset that will help the team next year and could very well lead to the Wizards filling a major hole without needing to use a first round pick or valuable cap space. Maybe it's a backup point guard, a sixth man, a pick and pop big, or even just a draft pick.

No matter what, Emeka Okafor is going to help this team. Is he overpaid? Maybe, but the bottom line is that he's still an asset, and should be looked at as such.

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