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2017-18 Pelicans Season in Review: Emeka Okafor

Contributing writer: Sam Moses

SEASON OVERVIEW
After a nearly five-year hiatus from the NBA, New Orleans signed Emeka Okafor to a 10-day contract on Feb. 3. DeMarcus Cousins had recently suffered a season-ending Achilles injury and the Pelicans were desperate for depth and rim protection. Okafor provided just that. In his six games (including four starts) prior to the Pelicans signing him for the remainder of the season, he compiled averages of 3.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.

After suffering a herniated disc in his neck during the 2012-2013 season, the road back to the NBA proved to be a long, grueling process. Known for his defense, Okafor elevated an already stingy unit by improving the Pelicans defensive plus-minus by 1.3 points per 100 possessions while on the floor. His block percentage (5.6) was the highest of his career since the ’06-07 season (5.7). While his defensive prowess secured him a roster spot, his veteran leadership was another major asset. Having already logged nine seasons in the NBA, Emeka’s calm, steady presence helped the Pelicans remain in playoff contention despite being a short-handed frontcourt.

After a 1-5 start without Cousins, the Pelicans reeled off a 10-game win streak. Part of that streak can be attributed to Okafor’s strong post play, with some help from one of the NBA’s premier players, who compiled one of the best stretches of his decorated career.

Anthony Davis was glad to have some help in the paint, saying after a 38-point outing vs. Detroit on Feb. 12 of Okafor: “He did a good job. He was able to rebound the basketball, set screens for us, block some shots. He was talking a lot on defense, banging down low with Andre (Drummond).”

Overall, Okafor had a terrific comeback season. He helped a team that struggled initially without Cousins to right its ship, posted impressive defensive numbers. The UConn product showed that the No. 2 pick from the ’04 draft can still contribute to an NBA team.