All Star Nods: West or Okafor?

Published: January 31, 2011

The following is the first of what will likely be a recurring series here at Hornets247. It’s likely you have seen the Broussard vs Boucher weekly debate on ESPN. We have, and decided that we like it enough to roll out our own version.

In this initial run, Mike and I debate who is more deserving of a spot in the Western Conference All Star Game, Emeka Okafor or David West. I’m taking Okafor since I’ve already weighed in on what it will take to get him into the game. In a recent Hornets247 poll, fans were split 50-50 on the issue.

If you have some suggestions for a name, that would be great.

Mike: As a Hornets fan, I would obviously like to see both make it into the game, but if it comes down to one or the other, I think David West gets the nod despite the fact that I think Emeka has been the Hornets MVP this past month or two. I guess what it comes down to is this: I don’t care about what “positions” either guy plays and how they stack up to their counterparts in the West. I want the 12 best players on the team, and if that means that the Western Conference has no true center this year, then I am fine with that.

Joe: Of course it would be nice if both could make it, but the likelihood of that is about the same as the odds of the Hornets missing the playoffs (.4%). I can also agree with you about positions not mattering so much, but I think this one comes down to what Okafor’s impact is on the side of the court in which the Hornets have made their mark this year. He is arguably the defensive player of the year in the Western Conference right now, and the 6th best rebounder to boot. There should be a place on an All-Star team for a guy like that. What West is doing, having another great offensive year, doesn’t really make him stand out among potential picks.

Mike: Defensive Player of the Year in the West??! Man, you are bringing the big guns out early and of course I am going to have to disagree with such a bold statement. Technically you left yourself an out by saying that he is “arguably the defensive player of the year”. Isn’t EVERYTHING arguable? I mean, I can argue that Jeff Bower is a better coach than Monty Williams if I wanted to. It would be an absurd argument, but I could do it. Similarly, you can make that claim with Emeka but it would be a stretch. You got a guy like Serge Ibaka who averages more blocks per game despite averaging only 25 MPG. How about Tim Duncan- the ONLY guy in the league who has more blocks than personal fouls. There is something to be said for a guy who can make an impact on that end without sending people to the line.

Emeka is a quality defender, but this is the All-Star game and DeMarcus Cousins showed just a few nights ago that Emeka can be outclassed by guys with elite offensive skills. You put him in this game and he will look like Jamaal Magloire and Chris Kaman did before him- a nice, solid player who is simply out of his league in an All-Star game. West is an All-Star caliber player, while Okafor is an above average player who stands out on this team because there is no other quality interior defender. He is the above average looking girl that suddenly looks hot when put next to “fugly chicks.” D West is good looking in any situation.

Joe: Sure Emeka gets outclassed occasionally, and after last year I never thought I would say this, but right now he has to be considered at the very least in the running for the theoretical WCDPOY. Grabbing boards at a rate 50% higher than anyone else in the starting lineup, and keeping a number countless more possessions alive, his contributions have played a huge part in how the Hornets have been able to actually out-rebound their opposition so far. Even though he might not get too many blocks per game (1.8, good for 8th in the West), he’s done a great job of helping out *ahem* David West, and the rest of the Hornets, by forcing driving opponents to alter their shot. Stats show it. He’s in the top five in defensive win shares, and is sporting a defensive rating of just 99.

We both know that the All-Star game is a joke defensively, but it’s not defined anywhere that offense is the deciding factor in who gets to make it. It’s not called the all-offense game. The funny thing about the case for D-West is that it’s hard to make it, even looking solely at his biggest strength, offense. Whose offensive numbers have been inferior to West so far? Dirk (23 points on 53% shooting), Griffin (23 points on 52% shooting), and Pau (18 points on 52% shooting + nearly 4 assists) have all had equal or better offensive performances to West, and if that wasn’t enough, all of them have been better on the boards and in other places. You might say that West should go ahead of Kevin Love (22 points at 47%), but the kid’s rebounding rate is nearly double that of West.

At least Emeka can say he’s a better defender than all those players, and his scoring, while lacking in volume, is actually more efficient than every guy I just named as well. He’s in seventh place in terms of points per shot in the entire league. West, who I presume you think should make it based on his offense, sits at 1.28. That’s 50th place among qualified players, behind Dirk, Love, Odom, Millsap, and both Marc and Pau Gasol. Is there some part of the game that I’m missing where West overtakes all of those guys, or are you just seeing something on offense that I’m not?

Mike: Okay, first let’s establish who the other 11 guys are and then we can squabble over West vs. Okafor. We have the starting 4 minus Yao- CP3, Durant, Kobe, and Melo. Next on the list are the “no-doubts”- Manu, D-Will, Westbrook, Dirk, and Gasol. That leaves us with 3 spots. Blake Griffin gets the next spot in my opinion and San Antonio deserves a second guy, and for me that guy is Duncan. Final spot, then comes down to: West, Love, Parker, Aldridge, Odom, Nash, or Okafor.

Love gets it on stats, but I just have never been a stats guy and my eyes tell me that if Love were on this team instead of West, the Hornets record would be 3-5 games worse. Aldridge has been a beast since the entire Trailblazers team went down with injury and I guess he is now the cornerstone of that team, but his stats are inflated by the fact that he gets 39 MPG and he gets 20 shots on most nights. Odom is actually the guy I vote for in this situation because I think he has been the most consistent Laker this year and he has the ability to impact the game in more ways than any of these guys.

But that is not the question- the question is Okafor vs. West and what I am trying to do here as the Western Conference GM of the All-Star team is reward the 12 best players in the conference. I will not punish guys for being on superior teams, guys that sacrifice their own numbers for the greater good. I will not reward those who are “looters in a riot” either. Instead, I want to acknowledge those who use their supreme skill to contribute to helping the team win. Notice I said “supreme skill” as part of my qualifier. What skill does Okafor possess that is supreme within the context of the league. If we were to rate him 1-10 in every category, what is a 9 or a 10? West is supremely clutch and his offensive diversity is elite. West could go to any other team today and be a star on that team, while Okafor is dependent on the situation and can only plug specific holes. Love the guy and he is irreplaceable on this Hornets team given their other options, but the All-Star team would do just fine without him.

Joe: Okafor’s supreme skill is rebounding, where I think he rates a solid 9. I feel like that question has more to do with someone’s overall basketball skill as opposed to what they have done during the current season, which is really what making an All-Star team should be about. This year, as I said, Okafor has been the backbone of the best defense in the conference. Combine that with his most efficient offensive year ever, and you have a season that qualifies him more than his fellow teammate to be an All-Star.

As for the All-Star predictions, I leave Westbrook (clearly still a step below D-Will) off my shoe-in list, and add Love to it. No way that guy misses out.


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