The Greatness of Emeka Okafor

Posted on January 25, 2007 by


The Charlotte Bobcats won 26 games last year. After 41 games this season the Bobcats have won 14 contests. So the team is on pace to win about as many games as it did last year.

If we look at the individual players, though, we do see one instance of spectacular improvement. In Emeka Okafor’s first two seasons he produced 9.3 wins and offered 0.128 wins per 48 minutes [WP48]. Given that an average WP48 is 0.100, Okafor was slightly above average.

This season Okafor has already produced 8.5 wins. His WP48 has risen to 0.278, primarily due to his ability to rebound, block shots, and hit his shots.

What may surprise is that Okafor’s WP48 eclipses the performances of many notable big men such as Elton Brand (WP48 of 0.224), Andrew Bogut (WP48 of 0.193), Amare Stoudemire (WP48 of 0.275), Jermaine O’Neal (WP48 of 0.203), Yao Ming (WP48 of 0.244), Pao Gasol (WP48 of 0.240), and Chris Bosh (WP48 of 0.237). Although he is not quite as good as Tim Duncan (WP48 of 0.334) and Dirk Nowitzki (WP48 of 0.353), Okafor is still having an extremely productive campaign.

Despite this effort, though, Okafor’s team has the 4th lowest winning percentage – and as reported a few days ago — is ranked 5th from the bottom in Efficiency Differential (Offensive Efficiency – Defensive Efficiency). In sum, although Okafor is a great player this season, the Bobcats are a bad team.

Table: The Charlotte Bobcats after 41 Games

When we look at the Wins Produced of this team – reported in the above table – we can see where the problems lie. What stands out in this table is the distance between Okafor (the team’s lottery pick in 2004) and Adam Morrison (the team’s lottery pick in 2006). Okafor leads this team in Wins Produced. Morrison is so far below average he has wandered far into the negative range.

Morrison’s problems begin with inefficient shooting but include an inability to rebound or doing anything else that helps a team win games. Despite this effort, people still mention Morrison as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate (primarily because Morrison has managed to take enough shots to average more than 13 points per game).

Beyone Morrison’s poor play, Gerald Wallace has declined considerably from what he did last year. With respect to both shooting efficiency and rebounds, Wallace is offering far less in 2006-07. Consequently his WP48 has declined from 0.335 last season to only 0.098 in the current campaign. Such a large swing in performance is unusual and one wonders if injuries are to blame.

Unfortunately, Morrison and Wallace are not the only problems. A collection of big men – including Primoz Brezac, Jake Voskuhl, Othella Harrington, and Melvin Ely – are offering nothing to this team. In fact, after Okafor, only Sean May is an above average performer at power forward or center.

In the backcourt there is some help in the form of two average players – Matt Carroll and Raymond Felton – and one above average performer — Brevin Knight. Knight, though, has only appeared in half the team’s contests.

When we put it all together, we see that Okafor is not getting much help. In discussing Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves (earlier this week) I noted that KG’s teammates only offer a WP48 of 0.044. Okafor’s teammates are collectively worse, only offering 0.030 per 48 minutes.

Now it’s important to note that diminishing returns exist in the NBA. If your teammates are more productive, you will offer less. Conversely, if your teammates offer little, you will offer more.  So the failure of Okafor’s teammates to produce probably enhances what Okafor offers. This impact, though, is relatively small. In sum, even with better teammates, Okafor would still be a great player this year. Unfortunately, without better teammates, few people are going to know this.

– DJ