New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: Emeka Okafor vs. Trevor Ariza

Published: June 2, 2014

In our first matchup of the MLE Tournament, two former players in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza battle it out. Don’t forget to vote at the end, and keep up with all the matchups here. 

Emeka Okafor (1 year for $5.5 million)

By Jake Madison

When we did the draft for our MLE tournament I jumped at the opportunity to take Okafor with my first pick despite his grand total of zero minutes played last season. And it might not be for the reasons you think. So let’s dive right on in. But first and foremost I want to ask you all a question:

Do any of these players in the tournament look like particularly great pieces to add to the Pelicans’ roster?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

You want to know what looks appealing? A 5.5 million dollar expiring contract. Signing Okafor to a one year contract allows the Pelicans to keep their cap space for 2015 when the free agent crop looks much, much better than this offseason. I’d be shocked if Nick didn’t agree with this.

But just arguing just for an expiring contract would kind of be cheating. Positional need is also a factor.

It starts with Monty. It’s well known that Monty wants to run his offense with Twin Towers near the basket. The team has repeatedly said it sees Davis as more of a power forward than center. It’s why Stiemsma played so much despite being…just bad. Despite whatever roster and combination of players he has at his disposal that is how Monty wants to run his offense. And thus we circle back around to Okafor. But it goes beyond simply adding Okafor to the team.

Monty gets the center he wants and it either works or it doesn’t. If this was the right need for the team then they just signed a guy for a fairly cheap price and have the inside track on bringing him back in 2015. If it turns out this wasn’t the right fit, well the Pelicans essentially call signing Okafor a mulligan and use the 5.5 million elsewhere next offseason. But more than that, if Monty remains as the head coach, he’ll (hopefully) have realized that he doesn’t HAVE to pair Davis with another center. Signing Okafor and having him fail could be the catalyst which forces a changed in offensive philosophy.

Now, for Okafor himself. Well, this is a guy who has averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career and a PER of 17. It’s solid if unspectacular. Which, when you pair him with Davis, Holiday, Evans, Anderson and company is fine. No one is looking for Okafor to come in and light things up. He just needs to grab boards, make close shot attempts, and play defense.

And defensively he’d be a great fit. Davis thrived at Kentucky when he was allowed to roam around some and just generally cause havoc. Okafor is a great rim defender posting a defensive win shares above 3.0 six times in his career. And his career defensive rating is a tremendous 103. Stick him on the low block and free up Davis to move around more than last season. I promise you the Pelicans defense could improve based on that.

But, hey, let’s say you don’t agree. That’s fine! We can still be friends. However we won’t be friends if you decide on Trevor Ariza at 3 years and 19 million. We’ve gone through this before with Ariza, and the story stays the same: He only plays well in a contract year. In his two years wearing a Hornets uniform he never shot well from deep, wasn’t good from the charity stripe, actually had a negative offensive win shares one season, and on and on it goes. This past season for the Wizards was his best year since…his last contract year where he shone during the playoffs on the title winning Lakers. It’s like Groundhog Day without changing anything. And when non-contract-year Ariza shoots from deep, I want to punch Ned Ryerson.

If this was Ariza on a one year deal (like Okafor!)? Then I might listen. But tying up three years of cap space for a guy who will only perform for one of those years? No thanks.

Overall, Okafor just makes too much sense for one year at 5.5 million.


Trevor Ariza (3 years for $19 million)

By Nick Lewellen

This matchup brings up some odd feelings for Pelicans (or Hornets) fans. Both Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor spent some time with the franchise, before they were traded to the Wizards to free up some cap space. Unfortunately, for me, Ariza’s two seasons with the Pelicans weren’t great. He shot only 40% from the field and 31% from 3. Yeah, that isn’t remarkable, but a lot has changed in New Orleans since then.

At the end of the day, I could argue against brining Emeka Okafor back to New Orleans, but let’s focus on why Ariza is the perfect candidate to win the MLE tournament.

  1. The Mysterious D and 3 – We have been talking about getting the D and 3 wing player for a while now. Let’s stop talking and actually get a guy to fill that role for a decent price. Sure, Ariza didn’t shoot incredibly well, when he was here before. Still, he is a career 34.7% 3-point shooter, which isn’t bad. All we need is another threat. We don’t need another Ryno. He was an especially good shooter last season, despite taking the most 3’s of his career. As a defender, he averaged .84 points per possession, according to synergy, which was good for 109th in the NBA. For comparison, Aminu gave up .97 points per possession, which ranked 388th in the NBA last season. I’m not sure how he compared to Okafor last year… There doesn’t seem to be any data on his play from last season. In short, Ariza can sure up two of the biggest areas of need for the Pelicans.
  1. Forget the Contract Year Stuff – I’m sure you have heard of the “contract year phenomenon” by now. If you haven’t, it basically means that some player’s numbers spike when they are in the last year of their contract. Ariza is allegedly a typical contract year offender. I don’t completely buy the whole contract year thing for a lot of reasons. I won’t go into it all here. Let me say this, Ariza has played 9 years in the NBA and has had only 2 contract years. Those may have been his best years, but let’s not jump to conclusions the data can’t support. There are dozens of variables that dictate how productive an NBA player is. Even if an expiring contract is one of them, who’s to say that is the variable that led to Ariza’s production spikes? Ariza is a solid player. Even if he does fall off next year with a fat new contract, he’ll still be solid.
  1. Prototypical Young Veteran – Ariza is 28 years old. Shockingly, that would have made him one of the oldest Pelicans last year, but he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. He is the perfect blend between youth and experience for the Pelicans. He even has championship experience from the Lakers 09 run. Seems like the perfect type of guy to help mold a locker-room consisting of young talented guys like Holiday and Davis. Even better, his contract will end when he is 31. Right when he starts to decline as a player.

Let me leave you with one last thing. We here at Bourbon Street Shots think that a reasonable contract for Ariza is at 3 years 19 million dollars. 6.3 million a year isn’t an unreasonable price. Of course, the price doesn’t matter much when it comes to the MLE, as it won’t count against the cap. Nevertheless, we are filling a serious need with a reasonable (and tradable) contract. If it doesn’t work after year, he has 2 years left. It wouldn’t be that hard to trade a 2 year deal.

Now, I wouldn’t be upset with Okafor. I wouldn’t be happy either. In fact, why give a 1 year contract to an injury plagued 31-year-old center at all? Why waste time with that? What does he bring to us in the short and long run? And are we really going to say, “We can’t sign Ariza because his last year was a contract year, and he plays better in contract years. So let’s sign Okafor, who played a grand total of 0 minutes during his contract year?” Right… Instead, let’s vote for the guy who actually brings something to the roster with a reasonable price tag.

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