Arriving from New Orleans just after the end of the 2016-2017 season, with Trevor Ariza in a trade for Rashard Lewis, Okafor posted some pedestrian raw numbers on offense (47.7% shooting from the field, 57.1% at the foul line) but the Wizards as a whole were a very bad team on that side of the floor. Whenever set up properly, Okafor did shoot 69% at the rim. But it was his contributions on the other end that made him a good fit with this core, especially the partnership with Nenê upfront.
Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney describes in this post how they both recognize the best way to deny access to the lane similarly, with their styles of play also matching. Nenê has the athletic ability to be at times aggressive in the perimeter, hedging way outside or sometimes trapping the opposing ball-handler, while Okafor is at his most comfortable hanging back in paint protection.
Okafor is not Tyson Chandler containing dribble penetration with great lateral mobility, but he is perhaps just as smart a defender simply without the same physical tools to feel as comfortable taking a couple of steps outside the lane, but with Nenê providing support, he was mostly responsible for the Wizards allowing the seventh fewest points at the rim. Another point Mahoney makes in that post is that with such solid interior defense by the big men, the wingmen did not feel the need to overhelp often and could focus on their assignments on the perimeter. Washington ranked fourth in the league in scoring allowed per spot-up shot.
Okafor’s absence is a big deal. Not only will the Wizards be missing solid production but they are likely to have one of their projected weaknesses coming into the season, the depth upfront, exposed. There are options; just none of them provide a lot of reliability. Among a group of young true big men, Kevin Seraphin is the one expected to pick up Okafor’s minutes at first, mostly because that has been the case before. He logged 1721 minutes last season, picking up most of the minutes Okafor didn’t take at center.
Seraphin is entering his fourth year in the league and there is a pretty good idea what type of player he is at this point. Seraphin is a post scorer, though a not a very efficient one. He shot 41.9% on 298 attempts off post-ups last season. He is also a below average pick-and-roll finisher, rarely ever passes the ball and averaged an incredible 1.8 free throw attempts per 36 minutes last season. The Wizards scored over five points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. Seraphin is also not half as attentive a defender as Okafor and his rebounding regressed last season.
In terms of potential, third year player Jan Vesely can bring more to the table but there is very little evidence he might be capable of turning that into production on actual NBA games. When the Wizards booster club committee drafted Vesely sixth overall in 2011, hope was he would be at least a very good transition scorer right away, running the break with Wall. Vesely was a very decent individual defender at Partizan Belgrade, where he played in the perimeter and used his size and athleticism to overwhelm defenders, and was even capable of translating his athletic ability into some quality shot blocking off the weak-side. But transferring into the NBA, Vesely shifted from the wing to the frontcourt and that has been an adjustment he has struggled mastering.
Vesely has length and feet agility to be a good interior defender but it was very clear last season how he still didn’t feel comfortable at all with the transition, evident on how chaotic he moved and leading to a tendency of constantly overhelping, something Grantland’s Zach Lowe highlighted in this post.