One of the brightest spots on this Wizards team last season was the emergence of Emeka Okafor. After he and much of the team struggled early on in the 2012-13 campaign, Okafor's season turned around for the best once John Wall was able to get back in to the line up. He went from being just an average big man on an average roster, to emerging as one of the team's best scorers, defenders and rebounders. His play elevated the play of the other players around him, especially the bigs. When Seraphin came in to the game, he felt pressured to perform at the level Okafor was producing at. That's the kind of pressure you look for as a head coach to put on the rest of the team. Even though statistically Okafor had his worst scoring season, if you simply judge his performance on the stats, you'd be blinded by the production he was able to give this team throughout the second half of the season when he was fully healthy and able to play alongside Wall and Beal.
I predict that Okafor, much like the rest of the team, will have much better numbers and potentially career highs in terms of statistics. I believe that this will also catapult the Wizards back in to the postseason for the first time since the ‘07 season. The idea of having a healthy Nene, Wall, Beal and Webster to line up next to him only makes me more excited for next season to start. I expect a lot of rebounds, easy buckets, and lots of blocks.
Okafor, much like the rest of the team, struggled early on. The Wizards got off to an 0-12 start, they were without Wall and Nene, while other guys were also missing games due to injury as well. With no real system in place, combined with consistent 4th quarter break downs, it was tough to really get a feel for any player early in the season. But right around Christmas, I noticed the team was playing with more confidence and as a result, everyone elevated their game. Then when John finally returned, everyone was that much more confident in their ability to play because they had their floor general back. Okafor led by example. He never complained, never got too heated and always kept an even keel on the court. He simply went out there, did his job, and was the best teammate on the court for the rest of the guys. He hustled, worked hard for rebounds and did whatever he could to put John and the rest of the backcourt in a great position to lead the team in transition.
Scoring: Okafor was a double-double threat every night. Not only was he playing great defense, but he was putting up points. It seemed like every night I looked at the stat sheet he was good for atleast 12-15 points and 10-15 rebounds. He went from being the guy on the team that I was worried the most about, to the one guy that I knew I didn't have to worry about. Once he gets a chance to play 65+ games with a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal, I think you'll see his scoring increase by a lot. The Wizards will utilize their inside game more because now, with their floor general running the show, they have confidence that Wall will put everyone in the best position to score the basketball. Not just Okafor, but for everyone else as well. While Okafor may have had the worst point scoring season of his career thus far, not all of that is his fault. The factors and injuries around him hurt his scoring as much as other things. But given all that, he still put up almost 10 points and 10 rebounds a game. Solid numbers for a big man. Look for him to step up next season.
Court Awareness: At times, he was a little slow in transition, but I'm not going to fault a big man for not being the first one back on the offensive end of the floor after he either got the rebound, made a block or hustled after a loose ball. Okafor was great on the pick and roll and made it extremely tough for guards and forwards to get dribble penetration towards the basket. Even when the opposing players got by the first line of defense, Emeka was always there, ready to at least contest the shot and sometimes block it. He was always knew where his outlets were on the court so once he got the ball, he always knew where to go with it. He had pretty decent range for a big man as well. Whenever he took a jump shot, it was from right around the free throw line or closer. He constantly put himself in the best position to score the basketball and never forced anything. He was also a great passer from down low when facing the double team. I'm sure that's something Nene helped him out a great deal with.
Offensive Value: You can't put enough value on 7 footers who can average a double-double and play consistent minutes for you. Okafor has tremendous value on this team. If he was the only big man on this roster, I would probably think differently, but I think his value definitely is higher being paired with either Seraphin or Nene. Nene, being the veteran leader he is, is a great influence on Emeka's style and overall game. When Emeka is out on the court with Seraphin, I think you see a bit of Nene's teaching influence in Okafor (at least, that's what I'm hoping for). His offensive value on the court and his veteran presence off the court to a lot of the younger guys is something that this team could value for a long time.
Defensive Value: Outside of Ariza, I think Okafor was the best defensive player on this team. His interior presence and even his ability to guard players off the ball was second to none. He was able to bail out the guards and forwards on blown coverage because of his ability to be in the right place at the right time. We always talk about basketball I.Q. when it comes to the small details in the game, especially on the defensive end of the basket, and I feel as though Okafor had a high I.Q. He never said much but always gave it his all to defend the basket.
Hustle/Effort: Okafor always gave it his all in every game. He wasn't always the fastest guy on the court, but made up for it with rebounds, blocks and easy baskets for himself. This is one area of his game that I felt was the strongest.
Basketball Swag: Okafor always did his best and never said much about it. Very rarely did we ever hear anything negative come out of his mouth. He was a true professional and played the game that way. I don't know if "swag" is an appropriate word to use to characterize his personality, but he was definitely a stern guy on this roster and someone who lead by example and production.
Final Player Grade: B+, He's not far off from an A. I think if you give him a full offseason to work out with the rest of the Wizards core that's already in place, you will see Okafor's production increase a great deal. I am excited to see what the whole team looks like next season, but particularly Okafor because of the potential he brings to a team with a solid frontcourt mixed with veterans and young players.