Earlier in the season, when the Washington Wizards were the laughingstock of the NBA, few on the roster drew as much ire from fans as Emeka Okafor, and rightfully so. The highest-paid player on the Wizards, Okafor appeared a shell of the player who in eight professional seasons had carved out a unspectacular-but-solid role as a low-post defender and rebounder.
Though he started most games, Okafor's uninspired play forced Randy Wittman into putting Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton, and even Earl Barron on the floor during critical moments. It appeared everyone's greatest fears following the Okariza trade had been realized.
But, as reported today by both the Washington Post' Michael Lee and Washington Examiner's Craig Stouffer, since Nene returned to the starting lineup Dec. 22, Okafor has recorded nine double-doubles (he had zero before) and been everything and more Wizards fans hoped he would be when the trade was announced.
Over that same span, Okafor ranks fifth in the league in rebounding, averaging 11.3 boards per game. Okafor had perhaps his finest game of the season Saturday against the Bulls, recording 15 points and 16 rebounds.
"He's been incredible. He got one rebound towards the end there [against Chicago], where he we went up with two hands and I didn't know if he was coming down," Wittman said. "He's been consistent and an anchor from a defensive standpoint. And he's been scoring on the low post. He's been playing at a very consistent level for us, which is one of the reasons why we're playing well."
"That's what I've been asking to him," Nene said. "I say, 'Man, come on, you need to step it up. You need to help your brother right there.' He made a post move [against Chicago] I've never seen him do. I said, 'Wow, you put a smile on my face right now.'?"
Okafor credited his resurgence in part to playing alongside a veteran big man who knows what he's doing on the court.
"Whenever you have another player -- especially a big -- who's been out there, we've seen all types of situations," Okafor said. "We can make reads off of each other without even saying anything just by certain body positions."
And with both Nene and Okafor giving the Wizards a consistent low-post presence, it's just made things easier for the team's backcourt players.
"They've been tremendous. Emeka's been rebounding his butt off. Nene, too. They've both been putting the ball in the basket," rookie Bradley Beal said. "We need that. With them playing at a high level, it just opens everything up for the team."