Knocking Down Some Okafor Myths

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Published: July 7, 2010

Okafor gets a lot of flack from Hornets fans.  Billed as a replacement for Tyson Chandler, I believe most were hoping that he would step in and give us the same highlight-reel alley-oops that Chandler did.  When that didn’t occur, and Okafor was frequently nowhere to be seen in the fourth quarter because of defensive issues, people really began to sour on him.

During the off-season Okafor’s reputation has taken even more of a beating, as Bill Simmons listed him as one of the worst contracts in the league, all the rumors reported about Chris Paul being moved have involved Okafor with the implication that the only way to trade such a horrendous contract would be to send out some amazing talent with it.

All in all, it’s not been a great six months for the Hornets’ Center.

I do think, however, that there needs to be a sanity check about Okafor.  Okafor is a solid player.  He does a lot of things well, and the idea that he just needs to be dumped after only one very chaotic season is a bit inane.(Particularly when moving him now would be the epitome of selling low)

So, here are three popular Okafor myths and a stat-pack to knock em down.

1. Tyson Chandler was so much better than Okafor

First, let me state that yes, I know Chandler’s a better defender.  I recognize that.  I still want to compare statistical apple to apples here: Tyson Chandler’s first season as a Hornet to Emeka Okafor’s first season as a Hornet.  To make the comparison even stronger, I’ve included Okafor’s stats in one row, and then give you his stats had he played as many minutes as Tyson Chandler did:

Player M/G FG% FT% Stl/G Blk/G TO/G PF/G Reb/G Ast/G Pts/G
Chandler 34.6 0.62 0.53 0.51 1.8 1.73 3.3 12.4 0.9 9.5
Okafor 28.9 0.53 0.56 0.66 1.5 1.35 2.7 9 0.7 10.4
Okafor Normalized 34.6 0.53 0.56 0.79 1.8 1.62 3.2 10.8 0.80 12.5

As you can see, they really aren’t that far apart.  Okafor scored a little more, albiet somewhat less efficiently, and Chandler rebounded a little more.  So the idea that Okafor was terrible is a bit disingenuous.

2. Chris Paul didn’t make Okafor better

First, we can’t actually say this.  Paul and Okafor played half a season together, so outright stating the two players can’t play together off of that sample size is a bit silly.  Still, I’m all about numbers, so I’m once again going to compare Okafor’s 45 games with Chris Paul to the first 45 games Chandler had playing next to him.  Once again, I post Chandler’s numbers, Okafor’s numbers, and then Okafor’s numbers had he played the same number of minutes as Chandler.

Player M/G FG% FT% Stl/G Blk/G TO/G PF/G Reb/G Ast/G Pts/G
Chandler 33.5 0.62 0.48 0.60 1.77 1.63 3.57 11.3 0.83 7.2
Okafor 29.3 0.54 0.54 0.40 1.62 1.50 2.60 9.1 0.69 10.5
Okafor Normalized 33.5 0.54 0.54 0.46 1.85 1.71 2.97 10.4 0.79 12.0

Again, we see that they aren’t that different, except that Chandler scored very few points next to Paul initially and rebounded a little better than Okafor.  Okafor, on the other hand, scored much more prolifically.  Now, I’m not saying that Okafor will experience the same major leap in scoring that Chandler did once he got settled in with the Hornets – but I wouldn’t assume he won’t either.

3. Okafor is so unbelievably overpaid, we should put him in a red shirt and send him to another planet to be killed by aliens.

Joe Gerrity did a post about this earlier in the year, but I’m going to re-iterate it.  Okafor is not so egregiously overpaid as some would have you believe.  Last season there were 20 players who averaged better than 9 points and 9 rebounds a game.  Their average salary, and this includes five players on low rookie contracts, was $10,573,000.  Okafor was paid (according to Hoopshype) $10,538,937.

But wait, you say, that list includes players like Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan!  Their salaries are deserved and will drag up the average!  Okay.  If you normalize the list to include players who were within 20% of Okafor’s production both as a rebounder, shotblocker and scorer, the average salary does drop.  To $9,213,288.  So last season Okafor was overpaid by a moderately priced Devin Brown.  That’s pretty inconsequential.

However, this Myth has the potential to become very, very real.  Okafor’s salary increases every year, so if he doesn’t improve at all, in two seasons, he’ll be overpaid by $5 million, with it topping out two years later with him being overpaid by $7 million – or a not-so-moderately priced James Posey.  So . . . let’s hope for improvement, or we might need to find him that red shirt and warp-capable vessel.

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