July 20, 2012 Breaking Down Nene and Okafor – Part I
*This is a two part series wherein I will be breaking down Nene and Okafor both offensively and defensively*
After watching the fifth and final game for the Washington Wizards in Las Vegas for the Summer League, I couldn’t help but get a little giddy for next season. Our biggest offseason addition (via the draft), Bradley Beal, looks like his career is going to be defined by his ability to be one cool customer at all times. The Andray Blatche demons of the past have been excised from the franchise, and a comeback win to give the Wizards young guys some momentum for the remainder of the summer was just what this roster needed. Or at least, almost, because we also forget that the Wizards added another piece that figures to play largely into their future: Emeka Okafor.
Okafor is going to be combined in the front court next season with another veteran big man in Nene Hilario, who can also be considered “new” because we only got to see him suit up for the Wizards 11 times last season total. Adding the two together means that Washington’s front court is completely revamped heading into next season, and it’s worth trying to peer into the future to see just how well it’s going to mesh/what fans should be expecting.
Okafor and Nene have a surprisingly huge amount in common. The two were both born just 12 days apart in September of 1982, stand in the 6’10 – 6’11 range, weigh between 250-260 lbs, and play incredibly similar positions on the court. Seeing as how both guys are going to be 30 when the Wizards begin the opening season, this gives us a bit of a safety net in terms of projecting their success next year. Around that age, players are directly in the middle of their prime; any extra stellar performances are more statistical aberration than future performance indicators. So that being said, just how good is this front court going to be?
From a scoring standpoint:
Simply put, the Wizards have two of the most efficient scoring big men in the NBA playing at the power forward and center position.
Let’s look at Nene for now. Nene’s career shooting percentage sits at an immaculate 56% from the field. That number ranks 11th All-Time amongst NBA players; it’s better than Kevin McHale, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain — it’s that impressive. His efficiency is off the charts good, but the tradeoff is that Nene is never going to be a prime time scoring big man because he just doesn’t shoot enough. For example, during the 2010-2011 season (which we’ll use because it was not a shortened season and Nene was actually healthy) Nene only attempted 654 field goals. That’s a paltry number, and it’s worse than low scoring players like Rajon Rondo, Charlie Villanueva, Chase Budinger, and even ‘ol Gilbert Arenas. Obviously, that number is going to be lower because Nene requires less shots to score his points, but it also means that he doesn’t demand the ball nearly enough. The end result is that Nene will always give you about 15 points per game every single night, with not much more and not much less.
Nene’s shots, during his last healthy season in ’10-’11 (because believe me, we don’t want to look at the last year’s small sample) came largely from inside at 52% from close range. The others came from his jumper that he showed off last year in spurts, sitting at 29%. Believe it or not, Nene still only converted 39% of those, which, brace yourselves….is actually lower than JaVale McGee (he completed 44% of his, while shooting more of them). I know that’s a tough pill to swallow, but the reality is that Nene’s jumper is on and off, much like McGee’s. Which means if you’re expecting him to be a stretch 4, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
The statistical aberration may have come last season when Nene was traded to Washington, because for one reason or another he ended up taking 56% of his shots as jumpers. The result was that he hit 46% of them, and that is why most Wizards fans peg him as having a knock down jumper. If Nene has, in fact, gotten significantly better at that, then without a doubt it’s good news for the team, but if he hasn’t then it does not mean he’s necessarily a worse player by any means.
Okafor is slightly less effective with the ball on offense, but he remains one of the more efficient centers in the league today. Oddly enough, Okafor’s best shooting season was during 2010-2011, where he was third in the NBA at 57.3% behind only–you guessed it: Nene and Dwight Howard. His career percentage is a bit lower at 52%, but if you exclude his rookie season that number is quite a bit higher. Again, because they’re similar players in terms of offensive demand, Okafor’s number is a tad deceiving as well when you consider he only shot the ball 7.3 times a game that season, averaging 10.3 points per. He is not a guy you can even come remotely close to considering instant offense. Want a scary statistic about Okafor?
Over 72 games during the 2010-2011 season, Emeka didn’t break 10 points 31 times. His first game of the season against the Milwaukee Bucks, Emeka didn’t even attempt a shot over about 26 minutes of play.
An interesting little factoid is that, despite the notion that JaVale McGee scored the vast majority of his points on dunks, he was actually at a lower rate than Okafor when you compare their most recent healthy seasons (2011 for Okafor and 2012 for JaVale). 16% for Emeka and 15% for JaVale according to 82games.com. Emeka surprisingly takes a lot of jumpers, as 32% of his shots in ’11 comprised of them. Except that he was brutal at converting, making only 39% of his jumpers. That mark actually ties the McGee of last year, who shot them 42% of the time and with the exact same amount of success. The rest of his shots come from close range at 46%, where he completely 95% of them. Basically what this tells us is that offensively, Emeka may very well be a downgrade from the previous center.
Their abilities to move the ball:
One thing that Nene has been notorious for throughout his career is his uncanny passing ability. For a center, the ability to pass out of a double team is a coveted skill, and it is where Nene excels. During the 2010-2011 season, Nene distributed 149 assists over 75 games, for an average of 2 per game in about 30 minutes of play. The distribution is as follows: 43 of those assists were to three point shooters, 38 assists for jump shots inside the three point line, 52 assists for close range layups, and 16 assists for dunks. What stands out is his distribution of those assists; he can get the ball to shooters and slasher anywhere on the court. If the Wizards decide to run set plays, Nene will be there to hit open jump shooters. The implications of applying Nene’s passing ability with Bradley Beal are absolutely frightening.
Also key to note is how smart Nene is with the ball. Despite having a turnover rate of 2.8 in 2010-2011, those were more related to his small hands than his inability to pass. His passing turnovers were actually incredibly low at only 41. That means for every 3.6 assists Nene dishes out, he’s turning the ball over once. That assist to turnover ratio was only .4 % points worse than John Wall’s last year. So yeah, Nene can pass really, really well.
Thank goodness we have Nene as a low post passer, because Emeka is pretty much a black hole down low. In ’10-’11, Okafor couldn’t manage to average one assist per game, and the result was that he finished with fewer assists than another notorious basketball vacuum in Nick Young. His 42 assists put him in the same company as former Supersonics draftee Johan Petro; he’s that brutal at it. The distribution is scant, but it can be noted that over half of his 42 assists were on jump shots. I think that number might be low because of the team he was playing on — New Orleans had Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli shooting for them. Neither of those guys is a knock-down shot specialist, and that may have lowered Okafor’s ability to get more assists. Honestly, I think it could just be that he’s not a good passer.
Their Free Throw shooting:
Again, in this category we see how different these two actually are. Whereas Nene is fantastic at drawing fouls and making his free throws, Okafor fails to accomplish either of those two things offensively very well. Nene attempted 402 free throws in 2010-2011 for the Nuggets, making 286 of them at the charity stripe (71%). That makes sense, since his low field goal attempts indicate that his points have to come from somewhere, and it’s at the line where he gets them. Nene also does a very good job of drawing fouls; that same season he drew 201 fouls at a rate of 23.5% (in terms of the amount of field goals he attempted). That puts him in the upper echelon of power forwards in terms of being fouled, which is a great thing for the Wizards. Free points from a big man who can actually make his shots at the line are always welcome.
But conversely, Okafor is your typical big man with regards to free throw shooting. Again in ’10-’11, Okafor struggled to get to the line and when he did, he missed a lot of them. He was fouled 126 times that season, and shot 258 free throws as a result. But Okafor left points on the board because he could only complete 56.2% of them (he made 145). He also wasn’t very good at drawing fouls, either, as he was fouled on only 19.5% of his field goals attempted. That paints the picture of a guy who is a very vanilla offensive threat whom defenses just don’t have to account for. Playing beside Nene, though, means that Okafor is going to have more open looks in the post because he really hasn’t had a quality big man partner ever. I think the pairing, though they both play very similarly, may ease some pressure off of Okafor and clear him up for one-on-one post ups where his size gives him an advantage.
So there you have it, a brief dissection of Nene and Okafor’s offensive potency as players. Take it as you will, but I do think that these two are going to play well off of one another offensively. Okafor is hardly an upgrade from JaVale offensively, but he can’t be considered much of a downgrade. Nene, on the other hand, if his jumper from last season become a consistent reality? He is going to tease Wizards fans much like he did during his stint with the Nuggets.
Coming tomorrow is part two: a defensive breakdown of the two players.
All statistics courtesy of 82games.com hoopdata.com and basketballreference.com