So, as you could probably tell from the recap of yesterday’s loss to Golden State, I’m a pretty big believer in Emeka Okafor’s role as the key to the Hornets’ success on defense. I utilized four key statistical categories to demonstrate just how important Okafor is; not just to the defense, but to the Hornets’ overall style of play. Thanks to Hoopsstats for the advanced data.
Team Efficiency Difference – This number takes the team’s offensive efficiency rating (for those interested, this is how efficiency and other categories are calculated) and subtracts the opponent’s efficiency rating. In the team’s first 49 games with Okafor, the Hornets averaged a team efficiency difference of +8.96, which would be good for 6th in the NBA for the entire season. In the 7 games without him, this number has dropped to -10.6, which would be 26th in the NBA for the whole year. It seems pretty clear that Okafor not only provides a positive impact on the team’s defense, but on the offensive side as well, something we probably could not have said about him last season.
Team Efficiency Difference (C) – This number is the same as above, except the stat takes only the center position into account. With Okafor, the Hornets average was 1.79, which would be good for 7th in the NBA for the entire season. Without him? This one is brutal: -10.6, by FAR beating out Toronto’s -7.1 for worst in the NBA over the whole year. While this number may more accurately display just how thin the Hornets are behind Oak, keep in mind that the totals with Oak still include those bad second-string centers (Grandenga) in limited minutes. This means that Okafor’s numbers are even more impressive because he has to make up for the horrific play of these backups.
Opposing PF/C Field Goal % - Hoopsstats refers to this total as “in the paint;” however, it actually equates to all stats accumulated from the PF and C positions, regardless of location on the court. This allows us, however, to measure Okafor’s impact in relation to the players he frequently matches up against instead of just the players who score from a certain area. With Emeka in the starting lineup, opposing PFs & Cs shot 46% from the field, which would be 3rd in the NBA. Without him, that number jumps a staggering 8 percent to 54%, ahead of only Detroit’s 54.6% season average. It’s tough to make it much simpler than that; a team’s easiest shots are the ones closest to the rim, and Okafor does a fantastic job of making those shots much more difficult.
Opposing PF/C Defensive Rebounding – Out of my four stat categories, this one is probably the least meaningful since the Hornets have been below average in this area all season. That being said, the only reason that the Hornets aren’t dead last in defensive rebounds allowed to opposing PFs or Cs is because of Okafor. With Emeka, the Hornets allowed an average of 16.59 defensive rebounds per game to those two positions, which would put them around 23rd in the NBA today. Without him, it’s been really ugly – 19.4, easily trumping Cleveland’s league-worst season total of 18.3. Okafor is the only player keeping the Hornets afloat here, and even when he returns, this is an area that Dell Demps needs to somehow address.
While there are absolutely other reasons for the Hornets’ poor play of late, there is no question that Okafor’s absence has been a primary contributor. This is not to say that the Hornets will pick up right where they left off when he returns after the all-star break, but Okafor’s presence in the starting lineup will unquestionably be a much-needed lift for a struggling group in New Orleans.