2010-11 Season In Review: Emeka Okafor


2010-11 Season in Review: Emeka Okafor
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
May 31, 2011

Hornets.com continues its look back at the 2010-11 season with player-by-player analysis of the team:

WHAT HAPPENED:


The 6-foot-10 center bounced back from a frustrating 2009-10 and was one of the most prominent factors in the Hornets’ improvement from 37 to 46 victories. As a result, Okafor made his long-awaited first playoff appearance of his NBA career. His importance in the New Orleans lineup was obvious, as evidenced by the team’s record when he was out due to injury. In January and February, the Hornets were just 3-7 while Okafor was sidelined with a left oblique strain. In all other games, NOLA was 14 games above .500, at 43-29. Okafor’s Jan. 30 injury at Phoenix also served as an unfortunate turning point of the regular season. The Hornets were 31-17 overall entering that loss to the Suns, but went only 15-19 over the remainder of the 82-game slate. When he sat out the Feb. 1 game vs. Washington, it ended his consecutive-games played streak at 306.

In comparison to his debut year with the Hornets – when he missed training camp, experienced a head-coaching change just nine games into the regular season and only played with Chris Paul in 45 of 82 games – 2010-11 went much more smoothly. First-year head coach Monty Williams made a point of making sure Okafor was integrated into the offensive attack, after Okafor did not attempt a shot in the Oct. 27 season opener vs. Milwaukee. After he sat out large chunks of fourth quarters in 2009-10, the UConn product was a frequent contributor in late-game situations. On many occasions, Okafor gave Williams significant credit for the improvement shown by the player from Year 1 to Year 2 as a Hornet.

“I attribute all of the success we’ve had to (Williams) and his way,” Okafor said late in the season. “He’s very organized and methodical. He’s been very consistent – he says something and sticks to it. His game plan was ‘We’re going to be a defensive team, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ For him to do that in his first year, that’s amazing.”

On an individual level, the confidence Williams showed in his starting center appeared to reap major dividends. After playing on a team with a losing record in each of his first six NBA seasons, Okafor finally began to receive the credit Williams believed he deserved as a high-caliber big man.

“He’s had success in the NBA, but he’s never been in a position where he’s playing for something,” Williams said. “I think when you’re playing for something, everything you do is magnified. He’s played well this year. The defense that nobody ever talked about in Charlotte, they appreciate this year.”

Unfortunately for Okafor and the team, his playoff debut was marred by persistent foul trouble. He averaged just 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds against the Lakers, while being whistled for 28 fouls in six games.

BEST GAME:


During the Hornets’ franchise-record 8-0 start to the regular season, perhaps their most memorable victory was Nov. 5 vs. Miami. Okafor piled up a season-high 26 points (one of two games he topped 20 points during 2010-11), as well as 13 rebounds. He was also a spectacular 12-for-13 from the field against the Heat. The efficient offensive performance highlighted a career-best, single-season field-goal percentage for Okafor of 57.3.

WHAT'S NEXT:


Okafor has three years remaining on the contract extension he originally signed with the Charlotte Bobcats in the summer of 2008. He was traded by the Bobcats the following offseason to the Hornets. Following a season in which he showed noticeable improvement, Okafor will continue to spend time working on his low-post game. Upon taking over as head coach last summer, Williams had heard criticism that Okafor did not work hard enough to get better as a player, but Williams didn’t see any evidence of that during 2010-11.

“I know there were some things reported about him not caring about basketball or liking other things,” Williams said. “He’s a guy that when I get to the gym in the morning, he’s there. He’s working on his body and working on his game. He’s spent a lot of time with (assistant coach) Randy (Ayers) fine-tuning some things. He’s getting better and better. If you look at the centers in the West, why can’t he be an All-Star someday? I think that’s the approach he has to take.”

ADDITIONAL 2010-11 SEASON IN REVIEWS
DAVID WEST AARON GRAY EMEKA OKAFOR
QUINCY PONDEXTER CARL LANDRY CHRIS PAUL
JARRETT JACK JASON SMITH TREVOR ARIZA
MARCO BELINELLI WILLIE GREEN


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