The Washington Wizards invested a lot in their big men over the past year, committing to long-term money for Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, Markieff Morris, and Andrew Nicholson. But their smallest investment, a three-year contract for Daniel Ochefu of which only $50,000 is guaranteed, may still prove to be an important one for Washington.
To understand Ochefu’s value, you have to start with his college career. The Baltimore native was rated as a Top 100 recruit in the 2012 class, and opted to sign at Villanova, where big men are asked to a little bit more than your standard program. Coach Jay Wright likes to play with four players out on the perimeter, which means his big men have to cover a lot of ground defensively, and provide a lot of versatility on the offensive end. Essentially, they have to provide the rebounding and paint protection of a center and still be able to shoot and handle the ball like a power forward to create the necessary spacing for the offense.
It took some time for Ochefu blossom into that role, but once it all clicked, he became a force for the Wildcats. During his senior season, he averaged 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1.7 assists. Those numbers might not leap off the page, but keep in mind he did that while playing less than 24 minutes per game last season.
Keep in mind part of the reason he didn’t play more last season is because Villanova won plenty of games by a comfortable margin last season. Even though he didn’t put up big raw numbers, he was a key part of Villanova’s title run and why they finished the season second in adjusted offensive efficiency and sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
What he lacks as a low-post scorer, he compensates for with good hands and a soft touch around the rim. When he gets the ball inside, he’s great at the getting the ball up to the rim quickly, before the defense can react. Watch how Ochefu slips the screen here, catches the pass thrown behind him, and then throws it down in one fluid motion:
He also used those quick reflexes and agility on the other end to cut off penetration and passing in the paint, like he does on this play:
Since Jay Wright took over at Villanova, his teams have been known to play a four-out, one-in style. What are some of the little things a Villanova big man have to do differently to excel in that type of system?
I don't think there are any hard/fast rules, but the best bigs in Jay Wright's offense have been pretty athletic and versatile players who can come out and set a screen, hit jump shots from mid-range, and battle for rebounds. We saw in the last couple of seasons a tendency to pass into Ochefu for a layup or dunk that wasn't as prevalent in previous years as well, so the system has generally been flexible to accommodate the skills that the players have.
How does Ochefu compare to Dante Cunningham, who played a similar role for the Wildcats in the 2000's?
Ochefu is bigger, for one... Dante Cunningham is a couple of inches shorter and was definitely undersized when he was playing at the 5 in college. Ochefu had the height and the strength to battle with anyone in the college game down low.
That said, they both are talented rebounders who worked hard on defense and developed their offense over four years at Villanova. Both improved their shooting each season, and progressed from being the best defensive option to becoming legitimate and reliable scoring options by their senior year.
Ochefu never averaged more than 7 shots per game at Villanova, but shot over 60 percent from the field on the shots he did take. Do you think he has the potential to develop into a better scorer or was his efficiency always based on being an afterthought who was just good at capitalizing on easy opportunities?
I think Ochefu would have had a lot more shots/game had he been on a team with less balance than Villanova had the last two seasons. Looking past the statistics, he really scored more as a senior in situations where his teammates looked to get the ball into his hands than he had in previous seasons. I think that says a lot about his development as an offensive player. He also had some big scoring games where he took a lot more shots in Big East play last year, so I don't think opponents were necessarily overlooking him at all.
What was the area he developed the most during his time at Villanova?
He was always a decent defensive player and a natural rebounder. It's probably hard not to say his free-throw shooting. He was pretty bad as a freshman -- really bad, even -- from the charity stripe. As a junior and senior, however, he was making about 68-69 percent of his foul shots, which was a pretty good advantage for 'Nova.
Big men need to have a different set of skills to excel in today’s NBA, but Ochefu’s development at Villanova has prepared him well for the challenges he’ll face at the next level.
It won’t be easy for him to secure a spot on the Wizards’ final roster, given how the team has already invested so much in their current crop of centers. But with the way the NBA is evolving, he could prove to be a good investment if he can hold his own in training camp.