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Why Emeka Okafor Is the Most Underrated Player for the Washington Wizards

Jonathan MunshawCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2016

Why Emeka Okafor Is the Most Underrated Player for the Washington Wizards

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    Since being selected second overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats, Emeka Okafor has struggled to find a solid home in the NBA.

    Now 30 years old, Okafor has found one in Washington as a starting center.

    Generally, John Wall and Bradley Beal are the only two names the average NBA fan would likely recognize on the Wizards' roster. But Okafor has recently made reputation for himself since being traded to the nation's capital from the New Orleans Hornets.

    This season, he leads the Wizards in blocks and rebounds and is playing his best basketball since 2010.

    A lack of wins has kept Washington out of the national spotlight, but as Wall, Beal and the rest of the youngsters continue to grow, Okafor could find himself producing for one of the better teams in the league.

    Okafor jerseys certainly aren't flying off the shelves in Washington, but he should certainly be recognized for his solid play as of late. 

Great Defensive Play

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    While offense has been a serious issue for the Wizards this season, defense has not.

    Washington ranks 30th in the league in offense, but ninth in defense, only allowing 95.1 points per game.

    A big reason for the strong defensive play is Emeka Okafor.

    Okafor is leading the team in both rebounds (9.1) and blocks per game (1.1).

    Not only does he average 9.1 rebounds per game, 6.5 of those rebounds come when the Wizards are on defense.

    A big part of Washington's game is Okafor rebounding the ball and getting it into the hands of John Wall to make a play on offense.

    The offense has certainly struggled for Washington in the past, but Okafor has given them a defensive crutch to rely on when they aren't putting up points. 

Clutch Starts without Nené

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    Nené, typically a center, has been making starts for Washington at the forward position this season, giving Okafor several opportunities to start.

    Okafor has started 59 games this season, while Nené has started 34. 

    These starting opportunities have given Okafor the opportunity to show that he can be a productive player on the court.

    While he only plays an average of 26.9 minutes per game (the lowest in his career), Okafor has still produced at a level to prove he can start at center over Nené. Despite only averaging 9.4 points, he is shooting 58 percent from the floor, which is up four percent from last season.

    Okafor's performance at center has allowed the Wizards to be flexible with Nené, which only makes their roster stronger. 

The Ability to Put Up Chunks of Points

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    The Wizards lack a consistent scorer, as their highest scorer Bradley Beal only averages 14.2 points per game.

    While Okafor only averages 9.4 points per game, the lowest of his career, he has had outbursts of points in several games this season: 23, 20, 19 (twice) and several others in the high teens. 

    Going into this season, it's unlikely the Wizards were expecting the aging Okafor to put up points in games like that. While it would be much better to have him producing night-in and night-out, large spurts of points have been beneficial to the Wizards. 

Poor Performance from Fellow Draftees in 2004

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    For many years, Okafor has been labeled as a bust coming out of the 2004 NBA Draft.

    Going second overall to the Charlotte Bobcats, their first-ever player drafted as a team, there is no denying he didn't live up to the hype coming out of Connecticut. 

    However, considering the players drafted behind him that year, a bust title may not necessarily be in order.

    The No. 1 overall pick that year Dwight Howard has obviously been worthy of that pick so far. 

    However, there isn't much behind Okafor from that draft.

    Players behind Okafor who were drafted that year include Ben Gordon, Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris, Josh Childress, Luol Deng and Rafael Araújo.

    Out of 17 players who were taken behind Okafor that year, only three of them have ever been selected to a NBA All-Star Game

    Yes, Okafor hasn't excelled in the NBA, but comparing him to others in his draft class is unfair, and he has performed well since coming to Washington.

Improvement Since Being Traded from New Orleans

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    After spending five years with the Charlotte Bobcats, Okafor spent three seasons with the New Orleans Hornets.

    This offseason, the Hornets traded Okafor to Washington for Rashard Lewis and a draft pick. Okafor's numbers have shown steady improvement ever since. 

    Between the 2011 shortened season and this year, Okafor's numbers have gone up in rebounds, blocks, assists and free-throw percentage.

    While his numbers are down when comparing 2010 and this season, Okafor has fit in much better on the Wizards than he did with the Hornets. 

    That season, he ranked fourth on the team in minutes and 10th in points. New Orleans also only had 22 wins that season, as opposed to the Wizards, who have 20 wins so far and still have 20 games left in the season.

    Okafor's numbers were really down in 2011, but it appears the new scenery in Washington has revitalized the 30-year-old and has him poised to produce for the Wizards for several more years. 

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