Okafor, Patience, and What I Expect this Year

Published: October 27, 2009

I’m sure you all remember the Yahoo! article by Marc Spears about Okafor, alleging that he was not working hard at returning from his toe injury, and that at least one Hornet was saying Okafor could “lose the team” if he didn’t work out last Sunday.

Well, Okafor worked out Sunday, and Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune asked him about the article.  Here’s Okafor’s explanation of the situation:

“There were a couple of things in the article that weren’t conveyed right as far as the doctors saying it was OK for me to (practice),” Okafor said. “The article almost made it seem like I wasn’t playing for the sake of not playing. What was left out was that the doctors said it was OK for me to gradually do weight-bearing activities until I felt comfortable to play. The previous week I jumped out there and started running and felt the soreness and got set back.

“This time the game plan was to gradually build. That’s what we’ve been doing and had success doing. Today was the first time I was on the court running, doing everything, the non-contact things, to try to gradually ease myself into the water.”

Okafor said when he practiced for the first time Oct. 12 after missing the first three weeks of training camp — planning to make his preseason debut Oct. 17 against Indiana — he experienced soreness during and after the workout, which slowed his progress.

That explanation seems entirely reasonable to me, though I won’t refute the fact that probably a few Hornets players may have felt frustrated by the slowness of his recovery. 

Okafor also worked out Monday, including the 5 on 5 work he had excluded Sunday, and according to Jim Eichenhofer, the Hornets.com Blogger:

Scott said he is more optimistic about Okafor’s chances of playing at San Antonio than of Ike Diogu’s likelihood to make his Hornets debut in that game. If Okafor is available to play, Scott will likely wait until Wednesday to decide whether Okafor will start or come off the bench against the Spurs.

Regardless of whether Okafor plays or not, it’ll be interesting to see how Okafor integrates over the first couple months. For a point of comparison, I went back and looked at Chandler’s arrival in New Orleans to figure out how long it took him to get in a flow with Chris Paul, and this is what I found:

As could be expected, his rebounding numbers came in strong right off the bat.  Rebounding doesn’t change from team to team.  Chandler’s scoring, however, took a while to develop as Paul and the team figured out what they could do with him.

In his first month as a Hornet, Chandler averaged 5.9 points in 31.2 minutes.  In his second month, he averaged . . . 5.9 points in 32.7 minutes.  His scoring average, by month, then rose to 9.8, 13.2, 12.6 and 9.8 over the last four months of the season.

Now, I don’t expect Okafor to produce numbers that low on the offensive end to begin with.  His offensive talents are more generalized than Chandler’s, and they don’t revolve around one play.  However, I do think that we’ll need to be patient with him over the first month as the team gets used to having him roaming the paint.  I think that is also a general statement we need to make about this team.  There are 6 new players on the team.  One will be a starter and three others are expected to be rotation pieces.  Julian Wright is making the leap into a starter’s role, and Morris Peterson is stepping back into that spot after essentially an entire year away.

Niall told me the other day he expects a rough start, but that the team will be clicking come January.  I agree entirely.  I feel there’s a bit of a false urgency in the coverage of the team right now.  Building a championship contender almost never happens overnight like it did with the Celtics.  To me, this year isn’t about contending for a title.  It’s about getting the front court re-established as a viable group, figuring out if Julian Wright is starting material, and establishing a couple useful bench players.

Next year, with Okafor-West-Paul and maybe Wright in rhythm together, all it will take is the addition of a single scoring wing for this team to be a serious contender again.  With Peja, Peterson and Songaila being expiring contracts – picking up a good wing should be eminently possible.

So this year, I’m keeping my expectations around a 4-5 seed, hopefully a second round run in the playoffs, and the enjoyment of watching a bunch of guys figure out how to play basketball together.  Anything else will be gravy.

What are your expectations, hopes and desires for the season?

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