New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: Kevin Seraphin vs. Emeka Okafor

Published: June 16, 2014

Kevin Seraphin (3 Years and $10 Million)

by Michael McNamara

This battle boils down to Past vs. Potential, plain and simple. You take a look at the career numbers and it is no contest – Okafor wins by a landslide. But how many times have we seen that when a big man is done, he is simply done? Remember how worked up some of us got about Greg Oden last year? Remember how bummed some fans were when he chose Miami? Including the playoffs, Oden played 219 minutes this year. He scored a grand total of 67 points.

It is nice to dream about – the broken down big man coming back and resurrecting his career at a rock bottom price, creating immense value at a position that is too often overpaid. But the reality is that once a big man is broken down, he often stays broken down. Okafor missed last season after having neck surgery, and even if he does come back at 80-90% of what he was prior to surgery, how good would that version of Okafor be for the Pelicans?

Three years ago, Okafor played a career low (until this season) 27 games for the Pelicans and two years ago his field goal percentage plummeted, as did his free throw rate. Add that to the huge dropoff in his block percentage and it is clear that Okafor’s athleticism was in serious decline even before the neck injury. A guy that used to take between 55 and 60 percent of his shots from between 0-3 feet now only took 26% of his shots from there over the last three years. Even before the injury, Okafor was turning into an old, slow, mid-range jump shooter who all of a sudden didn’t block shots that well anymore.

Meanwhile, Seraphin has young legs, athleticism, and he is hungry. At 24, he is a guy that can grow with this young team and be an energetic contributor off the bench, not a one year stop gap like Okafor who we will get 45 games from if we are lucky. As I pointed out in the last matchup, Seraphin did a terrific job of shutting down some of the better low post options in the West. He also has the explosiveness to finish strong around the basket. Remember the old feature Hornets247 used to have called, “Dunk That Sh*t!”– well do you remember why we named it that? It was because that is what Chris Paul used to yell at Okafor every time he laid it up soft rather than flush it home. And that was 4 years ago!

Meanwhile, Monty and his staff have shown that they can bring young big men along over time and get them to produce at levels they have yet to see in their early career. Jason Smith went from one foot out of the league to a productive big by season two. In 2012 nobody wanted Robin Lopez, then this staff helped flip that script. Alexis Ajinca showed more in a half a season last year than he had in multiple seasons prior, and even though nobody seems to want to give the staff credit, the improvement in AD’s game was tremendous. If the team can get another long, energetic big on the roster with potential, this staff can turn him into a guy who is worth two times this measly contract.

Choosing Seraphin here is betting on a track record that Monty and his staff can do again what they have done multiple times already. They will take a guy who has been underutilized and underappreciated from another team early in his career and take his game to the next level, giving the Pelicans just the type of role player they need at a bargain basement price. Choosing Okafor is hoping against hope that a big man that has shown multiple signs of breaking down and declining will suddenly find the Fountain of Youth and become the guy that he was four or five years ago.

Stop looking back, start looking forward with a guy whose best basketball is ahead of him. Vote Seraphin.

Emeka Okafor (1 Year and $5.5 Million)

by Jake Madison

Let’s be honest about the MLE Tournament: None of these players are the missing piece. As much as there may be a guy you think would be a strong addition he is probably nothing more than a role player. Because of that I have two criteria for the type of player I’d like to see signed. First and foremost, I want a guy who can be a strong complimentary player while filling a gap within the lineup. Secondly, I want someone who maintains the team’s flexibility. Emeka Okafor checks both boxes.

Look, Okafor isn’t what he used to be. No getting around that. But the thing is he doesn’t need to be. During the 2012-2013 season Okafor attempted 8.7 shots per game. Perfect. Even if that number drops slightly as the result of coming back from injury it means he’s not taking shots away from Holiday, Evans, Anderson or Davis. A complimentary piece that fills the gap at center. And make no mistake, Monty wants his big, lumbering center.

Going past the shot attempts (which I don’t find very important given the rest of the team), rebounding is where Okafor excels. Here are his worst rebounding rates over his career: 10.7 Offensive Rebound % (2007-08 and 2012-13), 21.4 Defensive Rebound % (2011-12), and 16.2 Total Rebound % (2011-12). Compare that to Seraphin’s career: 9.3 ORB%, 15.6 DRB%, and 12.8 TRB%.

The Pelicans have been a poor defensive rebounding team recently—ranking 21st—last season. Seraphin averages 4.7 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s absolutely horrible, and won’t help the Pelicans at all. Even if Okafor’s offense and blocks have dropped he certainly fills a need with his rebounding alone.

As for the second criteria, well, Okafor is on a 1 year expiring contract. That leaves open so many options. We know Dell Demps loves to deal and a 1 year 5.5 million dollar deal is incredibly tradable. More than that, it allows the Pelicans to receive more salary in a trade. And better players tend to have higher salaries.

One of the biggest concerns about Okafor is his health. He missed all of last season with a neck injury. He only played 27 games in his final season with the then-Hornets. But, frankly, there isn’t a concern. Don’t forget that for years Okafor was a model of health—playing in 306 consecutive games. In 2012-13 he played 79 games with 77 starts.

Seraphin on the other had has played a grand total of 4110 minutes in his four year career. Okafor averages 2078 if you don’t count the missed last year. But here’s the kicker: If Okafor doesn’t even play this upcoming season, the Pelicans simply let his deal expire and use the cap space next season—where the crop of free agents is much better.

Seraphin’s contract at 3 years and $10 million may not seem like a lot, but having an extra 3 million a -year in cap space would be huge for the Pelicans given Demps’ history. Jason Smith makes 2.5 million a year; Anthony Morrow was signed for slightly over a million last year. If Seraphin doesn’t turn out to be a productive player, and there is no guarantee he will, then he’s potentially costing the Pelicans a strong role player for the next three years.

Give me Okafor, the guy we know can produce. And if it doesn’t work out? The Pelicans take a mulligan and simply let his contract expire. Sounds like a win-win to me.



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