When the Washington Wizards acquired Emeka Okafor this last offseason, I wasn’t sure what to think. Okafor definitely came with a lot of positives. He had the reputation of a good defensive center and would be a steadying locker room presence. On the other hand, there were a lot of reasons to be worried. Okafor only played 27 games in the previous season due to a left knee injury, and I was concerned about his durability. There were also questions of how effective Okafor would be on offense playing with another center like Nene.
- Durability: Regardless of whether he was worth the money, Okafor definitely brought a lot to the Wizards. Despite offseason concerns about his durability over the year, he played the second most minutes on the team and only missed three games. On a team that was often beat up and injured throughout the year, Okafor was the one player you could count on showing up and playing well in the Wizards’ frontcourt.
- Defense: The Wizards’ clear strength this last season was their defense. They finished 8th in average number of points allowed per 100 possessions in the entire NBA. While a lot of credit should go to Randy Wittman and wing defenders, Okafor also deserves a sizable amount of credit. Sports illustrated profiled in February how Okafor and Nene anchored the Wizards’ great defense, and how Okafor and Nene were the motor that made the Wizards’ great defense go. Okafor was a vital component to the Wizards’ greatest strength, and for that he should be commended.
- Locker Room Presence: One of the major reasons Okafor was brought in to help cultivate a mature locker room presence. While that’s all well and good, many times its hard to see the benefits from a “strong locker room presence”, because one can’t usually see its direct effects on the players. Not so this time. When John Wall hit his stride to begin March, beat writers quickly attributed his improved play to a locker room argument between Okafor and Wall. If Wall keeps up his improved play next season, Okafor hefty price tag will have been worth it.
- Offense: While Okafor posted his lowest field goal percentage since his second year in the NBA, I am not sure that his play this season was necessarily an indictment of his offensive abilities. Rather, I think Okafor was simply not a good offensive fit. During Okafor’s last full year in 2010-11, he operated almost entirely in the paint, shooting only 29 midrange jumpers. This year, however, Okafor was forced to play away from the basket and took 228 midrange jumpers, almost a full 200 more than he did in his last full year. And since he’s not particularly good at them, shooting 38.6% on those jumpers, both his offense and the Wizards’ offense in general suffered.
While Okafor was a steady and consistent player that showed up to play each night and brought the Wizards’ defense to new heights. But Okafor’s offensive difficulties were a huge detriment. Unless Nene rediscovers his midrange touch, the Wizards’ offense will continue to suffer when both are on the floor. Okafor definitely is a net positive for the Wizards, but his inability on offense might really limit the Wizards’ ceiling next year.