The Washington Wizards made a splash Friday afternoon by making Emeka Okafor a major part of a trade to the Phoenix Suns to obtain big man Marcin Gortat. With Okafor out indefinitely with a neck injury, the Wizards are trying to improve their team by getting a full season (as long as he stays healthy) of Gortat for a partial season of Okafor.
The question that Gortat will face is whether he is a large enough improvement on offense over Okafor to help the Wizards sneak into the playoffs. Part of the answer will lie in how Gortat fits in with John Wall and alongside Nene but with Gortat and Okafor having some overlapping strengths and weaknesses, we can look at the differences between the two and begin to form an idea of how Gortat will fit into the Washington offense.
Even after the departure of Steve Nash, Gortat was excellent on the pick and roll, averaging 1.16 points per possession (PPP) last season, which ranked 26th according to My Synergy Sports. This is more efficient than Okafor, who averaged only 0.78 PPP as the roll man.
The below illustrates Okafor’s shot chart, which puts around league average in nearly every shot area inside the three point line. Okafor wasn’t great from any single area but also was not terrible from any area where he had a large sample size of attempts.
Playing alongside Nene hurt Okafor on the pick and roll, as he did not have the space to roll to the rim out of the ball screen. In the frame below, after setting the side ball screen, Nene dives to the rim on the weakside, which means the open space for Okafor is at the free throw line.
Okafor is not a great mid range shooter, so he is not able to fully execute on the pick and roll. Okafor can’t always roll to the rim because the space isn’t there but he isn’t able to knock down mid range jump shots when he pops to the free throw line. This is one of the main reasons that Okafor was not that efficient in the pick and roll last season.
Gortat’s shot chart is similar to Okafor’s, although he is a bit better than Okafor from long 2’s, albeit in a small sample size. Gortat is a bit better around the rim, which may shed some insight into why Gortat was better out of the pick and roll.
Looking at the video, there is a stark contrast as to how the Suns spaced the floor on the pick and roll compared to the Wizards. Even with Luis Scola on the floor, there was plenty of space for Gortat to roll to the rim and finish. While Nene would cut to the rim during the ball screen, Scola would move away from the basket to create space at the rim, playing into the strength of Gortat. This works for Phoenix because Scola is a capable mid range shooter, as he shot 42% on shots from 10-16 feet and 45.6% on shots from 16 feet to the three point line, according to Basketball-Reference.
This subtle difference allowed Gortat to get to the rim instead of having to pop out to the free throw line. As shown in the last two clips and further evidenced by the shot chart above, Gortat is not a great shot mid range shooter either, just like Okafor.
It will be interesting to see how Gortat plays the pick and roll alongside John Wall and Nene. He should find success screening for Wall but may not have space to roll to the rim like he did in Phoenix due to spacing issues caused by Nene. Nene will not be able to find the same success from midrange as Scola, as he shoots 31% from 10-16 feet and 33% from 16 to the three point line, according to Basketball-Reference.
Gortat and Okafor are basically equal in terms of post up efficiency (0.8 and 0.83 PPP, respectively) but one thing Okafor does better than Gortat is passing out of the post once the defenses begins shading toward the post. It’s possible that Gortat was hesitant to pass out to shooters due to Phoenix’s lack of shooters, as its 33% 3 point field goal percentage ranked 28th in the league, but he will need to improve his passing ability with the Wizards who will surround him with shooters.
The below frame shows an example of how Gortat passed up kick out opportunities to force tough post attempts. Instead of making the easy pass out for an open three point attempt or to extend the possessions, Gortat forced low efficiency attempts.
With shooters like Bradley Beal and Martell Webster surrounding Gortat this year, he will need to be more cognizant of when the defense is moving toward him and be prepared to pass out to shooters. This may cause him to have more 1 on 1 opportunities when defenses choose not to sag off shooters, so he will need to be prepared to take advantages of these situations as well.
Okafor is an average passer, with only a 7.9% assist rate but he was able to realize when the defense was converging on him, giving him a passing lane to the shooters around him. Washington will definitely want Gortat to improve at passing out of the post, so that their great 3 point shooters can have plenty of clean shooting opportunities.
While Gortat is not a gazelle on the open court, his breakaway speed seems to be a little better than Okafor’s as he is able to outrun defenders to the rim to get position to finish in transition. In the clips below, watch how Gortat is able to get to the rim first, catch the ball on the run and finish at the rim. Washington was a middle of the road team in terms of pace, ranking 15th in number of possessions but could increase this with a full season of Wall. Having Gortat to run the court could help the Wizards improve their transition efficiency, where their 1.14 PPP ranked 11th in the league, according to My Synergy Sports.
Gortat should be an improvement over Okafor in transition, as Okafor was unable to get out in front of the defense for the easy finishes at transition. He then had trouble catching the ball on the move and getting under control to finish in transition. With Wall leading the break, he should be paired with a more capable partner in Gortat, who should be an improvement both in running to the rim and finishing on the break.
These are just a few of the ways that Gortat differs from Okafor on the offensive end. There are some ways where Gortat should be able to improve the offense of the Wizards where he needs to improve in other areas to fill some of the voids left by Okafor. This didn’t speak to the defensive end, where Okafor has outperformed Gortat the past few years.
This was a bold move by the Wizards and they hope that Gortat will be an improvement on the offensive end over Okafor. One of Gortat’s biggest strength, his rolling off the ball screens, may be hampered by Nene’s spacing. It will be interesting to see how he fits alongside Nene and the rest of the Wizards after given a few weeks to integrate into the offense.