“The 5 and 4 is pretty much interchangeable in the NBA. A post player is a post player, and as far as the roles of 4 and 5, they’re becoming more hazy anyway. To me, 4 and 5 is who you guard … who’s going to guard the taller guy that game.
“Even within a game, you cross-match sometimes, so it really doesn’t matter.”
—Emeka Okafor from the summer league in Las Vegas
It’s never too early to ask the question. With the rapid development of Kevin Seraphin as a legitimate post scoring threat (defense and rebounding… working on it), and the last two primary trade acquisitions of the Washington Wizards — Nene and Emeka Okafor — which combination of big men will best setup the Wizards (and John Wall) for success?
In terms of three-man NBA units, these were the top seven in plus/minus per 48 minutes last season (limited to top 250 lineups in minutes played, via NBA.com/stats):
#1) Dwight Howard – Jameer Nelson – JJ Redick
→ plus-14.9 – 557 minutes
#2) Derrick Rose – Luol Deng – Joakim Noah
→ plus-12.9 – 743 minutes
#3) Dwyane Wade – LeBron James – Chris Bosh
→ plus-12.8 – 1073 minutes
#4) Mario Chalmers – Dwyane Wade – LeBron James
→ plus-12.8 – 1023 minutes
#5) Mario Chalmers – Chris Bosh – Joel Anthony
→ plus 12.5 – 728 minutes
#6) Grant Hill – Channing Frye – Marcin Gortat
→ plus-12.3 – 863 minutes
#7) Rajon Rondo – Brandon Bass – Kevin Garnett
→ plus-12.0 – 702 minutes
Now, clearly what’s missing from this is the fact that basketball is played five-on-five. The Chalmers/Bosh/Anthony trio started 37 of 66 games with James and Wade, and Frye/Gortat/Hill started 40 games alongside Steve Nash.
[Note: the ninth ranked three-man unit in plus/minus per 48 features Nash.]
From the Wizards perspective, the trio of John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, and Nene played a total of 51 minutes together. Their plus/minus per 48 minutes: plus-13.2.
Ranks right up there with the big boys. Problem is, as discussed in this Bullets Forever post about the dimensionality of Nene/Seraphin/Okafor, this lineup doesn’t score all that well together.
The three-man unit of Wall, Seraphin and Nene scored a measly 95.4 points per 48 minutes. The best lineup above (you guessed it, Hill/Frye/Gortat) scored 105.1 points per 48; the worst (Rose/Deng/Noah) scored 100 points per 48.
But here’s the deal, it’s all about who they play with. And yes, 51 minutes is a very small sample size.
31 of the 51 Wall/Seraphin/Nene minutes were spent playing with Jordan Crawford and Chris Singleton. The plus/minus of that five-man unit was plus-6.2, and they scored 98.5 points per 48 minutes. Lots of room for improvement here.
Wall, Seraphin and Nene spent five minutes with Crawford and Roger Mason, and five minutes with Cartier Martin and Mo Evans.
The first lineup pulled a plus-27.7 per 48 minutes, but scored only 73.8 points per 48; the second lineup had a plus-46.2, scoring 110.8 points per 48 minutes. Again, very small sample sizes.
Trevor Ariza will be an upgrade over Singleton. Crawford? Dare I say how he plays will be one of the top three keys to the season along with Wall’s progression and overall team health? Sure, Bradley Beal will be breathing down Crawford’s neck from the first day of training camp. Just don’t sell yourself short on how drastic the improvement, or regression, from Crawford could be.
Not even the coaches are sure, at this early juncture, how the Nene/Seraphin/Okafor dynamic will work, they just know they can’t count on Okafor to shoot — and they don’t want to.
Here’s Okafor’s shot chart from his last fully healthy season (and one with Chris Paul), 2010-11. He attempted 524 field goals and shot .573 from the floor; 309 of Okafor’s attempts came at the rim, 32 from the 10-to-15 feet range where he just made 11.
In contrast, last season Seraphin attempted 382 field goals and made them at a 53.1-percent rate. He went 29-for-65 from 10-to-15 feet (.446) and 6-for-16 from 16-feet to the 3-point line. Here’s his 2011-12 shot chart (while noting that while offensively more advanced, Seraphin could use the defensive honing that Okafor already possesses):
In 2010-11, New Orleans’s most-played five-man unit featured Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, David West, and Okafor. In 881 minutes, their plus/minus was 3.3 per 48 minutes and they scored 96.6 points per 48.
A more effective unit, however, was Paul, Marcus Thornton, Ariza, West, and Okafor. They saw 78 minutes together with a plus-24.1 mark per 48, and they scored 107 points per 48. Needless to say Paul drove the engine, but let’s take a look at the shot distribution of the 4 man, West, from 16-feet to the 3-point line:
West attempted 259 shots from this range and made 127 of them (.490). West was truly a stretch 4, and with Okafor’s offensive limitations (and Paul’s genius), it worked.
Now, Nene is no David West, but let’s take a look at his shooting range since 2008-09, specifically, the 12-to-17 feet range — there are those on the Wizards staff who believe this can be the bread-and-butter range for Nene which will allow the Wizards to amply spread the floor when he plays with Seraphin or Okafor.
Nene in 2008-09 from 12-to-17 feet:
33-for-77 (.429) — %Ast’d (.848)
34-for-85 (.400) — %Ast’d (.824)
19-for-58 (.328) — %Ast’d (.842)
30-for-71 (.423) — %Ast’d (.633)
Nene with Wizards in 2011-12:
16-for-29 (.552) — %Ast’d (.563)
David West shot 67-for-135 (.496) from 12-to-17 feet last season with the Indiana Pacers (%Ast’d .776), and 108-for-220 (.491) from the same range in 2010-11 with the Hornets (%Ast’d .722).
Seraphin went 20-for-44 (.455) from 12-to-17 feet last season (%Ast’d .850); he went 19-for-37 (.514) after the halfway point of the season.
The ultimate key is Nene. Turning 30 in September, can he improve his game, and, most importantly, his shot?
“I just play free here. What do they say, ‘Eh, I didn’t know you shoot so good.’ I say I’ve been working the last four summers. I couldn’t shoot in Denver, here I have green light to shoot,” said Nene after the final game of the season.
He clarified the next day.
“Green light because in Denver we have different players, shoot a lot the ball. I don’t like to follow the example when they shoot a lot, and I’ve been working on my last four summers on shots and things, and here I have the green light to do it. I’ve never seen a coach say to the player, ‘Shoot the ball, please shoot the ball.’ He (Wittman) do that, here I have the green light to shoot.”
Again, this isn’t a David West comparison, but you have to wonder, moving into the realm of the Wizards, if Nene and Seraphin might end up packing a better 4-5 punch than a pairing with Okafor or someone else. No one is forgetting about Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely.
[Note: Booker was 10-for-24 (.417) from 12-to-17 feet last season, 2-for-14 (.143) in his rookie season; Vesely was 0-for-9 from that distance as a rook, summer league was a different story.]
The goal for the Wizards will be defensive versatility, so look for that to be a primary factor in training camp, which might give the advantage to Okafor. But, if the Wizards are looking for diversely savvy, unselfish bigs to be a threat to score while initiating offense to help create lanes for Wall, while better perimeter shooters at the 2 and 3 bring the whole room together like a nice rug, then Seraphin and Nene might not be a bad choice to start.
Either way, it’s nice to have options, and the Wizards finally have athletes who are willing to mix it up in the paint to choose from.
[stats via basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stasts]
Okafor at Summer League…
Who would Okafor have play in a movie? He looks like some famous actor that he once ran into… Can you guess who?