Chandler for Okafor, 2 Months Later

It's been a while since the Okafor-Chandler trade went down. Quite a few statistical comparisons have been done, and some light has been shed.

But my primary takeaway from most analyses has been one of vague nebulosity. "If this happens, and this also sort of happens, then Chandler might maybe end up kind of worse than Okafor." So many awesome, measurable statistics exist, but none seems to provide anything definitive. The reason is the "fit" aspect. Simply put, the statistics of each player will not translate as is to new teams. I think most people understand this implicitly, but it's obviously quite difficult to quantify. So this post will not be an effort at quantification, but rather a look at the specific areas where "fit" will have an impact and potentially supersede the stats themselves.

The disparity between Okafor the rebounder and Chandler the rebounder seems clear cut at first glance. Okafor enjoyed a career best season on the offensive rebounding front in 2008-2009. (A quick refresher on offensive rebound rate: since it's a rate, the statistic accounts for total number of misses. So Charlotte missing a lot more shots than New Orleans wouldn't inflate Okafor's offensive rebound rate). After a career low rate in 2007-2008, his first season of 82 games, he rebounded sharply.

Okafor's career high 12.7% rate ranks below Tyson Chandler's career OREB rate (12.8%). Even during a down year, Chandler posted a 13.7% rate last year. This was despite numerous questions about both ankles. Chandler clearly did not have the impact on tipped rebounds that he did in seasons prior.

A straight stats comparison indicates that Chandler is the superior offensive rebounder, even at subpar health.

Yet it may not be so clear cut after all. In his three seasons with New Orleans, Chandler most often partnered David West in the front court. After a superb rookie OREB season, West has mostly wallowed in mediocrity on the offensive glass. In 2008-2009, Chandler's injury provided a chance to step up; West posted the worst offensive board rate (6.5%) of his career. Tyson simply did not have a single teammate with the ability to take away his boards. Melvin Ely and Hilton Armstrong were the closest he had to "competition." Neither played very often with Chandler, and neither rebounded well anyway.

Okafor didn't have it so easy last year. The Bobcats finished 10th in the NBA in offensive rebound rate. Okafor often partnered with DeSagana Diop (14.7%) or sometimes Nazr Mohammed (12.8%) on the front line. Admittedly, there were times when he was on the floor alongside Boris Diaw (5.3%) or Vladimir Radmanovic (5.0%). Those two make me think twice about stating that teammate rebounding competition can explain the entire percentage difference between Okafor and Chandler. In the end, Chandler is still better on the offensive glass, but this is still something worth noting. Okafor will immediately move into a primary rebounding role alongside West. Whether that opportunity allows him to reach Chandler's OREB levels is doubtful. But

Defensive rebounding is another story entirely. Chandler and Okafor have been more or less equals on the defensive glass. Of course, last year saw Chandler take a severe tumble. While his offensive rebounding remained steady, defensively, he dipped precipitiously low.

The team perspective doesn't offer much, uh, perspective unfortunately. Despite his recent shortcomings on the offensive glass, David West is one of the better defensive boarders in the NBA, especially at his size. He's hovered right around a 20% clip for his career, coming in at 19.7% last season. For the Bobcats, Gerald Wallace submitted an impressive 20.3% campaign last year. So both Okafor and Chandler's front court mates offered comparable competition. There's nothing here to suggest that the two are not indeed highly similar on the defensive glass.

Interestingly, this disparity between offensive and defensive boarding suits the Hornets perfectly. Last year, New Orleans ranked as the 25th best offensive glass team in the NBA... also known as 6th worst. If Okafor can grab his opportunity as the primary rebounder (with no Diop/Mohammed nearby) and parlay it into career best numbers, the Hornets could stand to move up from their lowly ranking. On the other hand, New Orleans finished as the 7th best defensive glass team in the league. This was despite Chandler's struggles. If Okafor can maintain his career averages, the Hornets could easily vault into the top 3. (I know it's a simplistic substitution to put Okafor's averages in for Chandler's poor ones last year... but I can't imagine it would be very off). And that's not even taking into account Ike Diogu's contributions.

I'm also excited in re: the turnover department. It would be foolish to say the Hornets "struggled" with turnovers last year. They did finish 8th in the league, turning the ball over just 12.5 times every 100 possessions. But they did take a step back, relative to 2007-2008. That year, they tied for first in the NBA, turning it over just 11.4 times per 100 possessions (which seems minute, but that's close to one extra possession per game. Which can be huge). Some of the regression has to do with Chris Paul, who turned it over a little bit more. Whatever the case, the Hornets stand to benefit hugely from the acquistion of Okafor.

Some of you may have noticed that, um, Tyson Chandler can't really dribble. His career 18.2 turnover rate is a pretty strong testament to this (meaning, every ~5 possessions, he gave away the ball). The 18.2% rate is especially ridiculous given how many of his possessions simply involved two steps: (a) catch the ball, and (b) dunk the ball. Emeka Okafor brings a whole new dimension in that he can handle the rock pretty effectively. A 12.1% turnover rate (Emeka's career) is pretty impressive, given that he does post, back to the basket, quite regularly. I've always hated Byron Scott's propensity to draw up isolation post-ups for Chandler. Now they'll go to Okafor, and the proceedings will ostensibly be more enjoyable.

So in terms of turnovers and rebounding, we have reasons to be happy.

But! As great as all that is, there is one thing that will make or break this trade. The one thing is the pick and roll.

Basketball Prospectus' Bradford Doolittle wrote, in my opinion, the best analysis of this trade to date. The entire thing is worth the read, but I'd like to reference a portion of it. Like I made the case for above, Doolittle is also of the opinion that team chemistry or "fit" (or lack thereof) is what will ultimately determine Okafor's success.

It's not just the names you write into your lineup, it's how they fit together.... However, and this is an important consideration, there is a very real chance that Paul's ability to draw defenders to himself will turn Okafor into a more efficient offensive player. Since he's already pretty proficient, that could lift him to Chandler-like levels on that end and the Hornets won't be any worse for the wear.

Overall, NBAPET [Basketball Prospectus' proprietary projection system] sees Okafor skimming away a few possessions from the rest of New Orleans' first unit, but using those possessions with far less efficiency than Chandler did. So even though Okafor is a better offensive player than Chandler is, the Hornets' offense still projects to drop just a tad.

In sum: Chandler has been more efficient offensively than Okafor because of his ability to play off of Chris Paul. NBAPET projects that Okafor will bring over his less efficient game to New Orleans, because it doesn't know if Chris Paul will improve him to Chandler levels. Really, nobody knows. The critical component is the pick and roll, because that's the move that almost exclusively provided Chandler's improved efficiency.

Emeka Okafor's offensive efficiency pre-Chris Paul has been 106. Any guesses as to Tyson Chandler's offensive efficiency pre-Chris Paul? Yep, 106 flat. Chandler's first two years with Paul saw him jump to 117 and then a crazy 122.

At first glance, there is a factor that works in Okafor's favor. In other words, both those "106's" weren't exactly equal. Chandler's 106 offensive efficiency in five years with Chicago came at a 14.4% usage rate. In other words, he was a role player offensively. He was not a go to scorer, and the majority of his points came in assisted or put back situations. There was never a terrible degree of difficulty associated with his efficiency. Okafor's 106 offensive efficiency came at a usage rate of 20%. In other words, his team was actively looking for him to take on a scoring role.

 

Okay, time for my go to move, providing horrendous metaphors. Let's say Ndubuisi* and Cleotis* are both in their final years of engineering school. Ndubuisi is really good at creative thinking, coming up with his own solutions to problems. Cleotis isn't so good at that, but he's really swell at following rules. Both get hired once they graduate, by 3PC Industries, managed by Emmanuel*. Now Emmanuel is an awesome boss (and was once unfairly robbed by Bean* for MVB, Most Valuable Boss). He clearly and concisely instructs his employees on how to perform their jobs. Cleotis, of course, is good at following at rules. So he owns at his job. Ndubuisi, you'll remember, wasgood at coming up with his own solutions to problems. But... at this particular company, following rules is what takes you far. So even though in college, Ndubuisi may have been considered "better" or "smarter" or what have you, ultimately, it was the ability to follow rules that allowed for success at 3PC Industries.

So I'll give you a moment to sort that all out/furiously bang your head against the wall.

This metaphor made a lot more sense before I wrote it down, I promise. But the basic premise was to show that specific skill sets fluctuate in value, both in the real world, and in basketball. This phenomenon is obviously exacerbated when Chris Paul happens to be present.

In sum, a straight statistical comparison would suggest that Okafor has the advantage.  A model that integrates usage rates and some teammate effects, such as BP's, would suggest that Chandler has the advantage (especially assuming he regains his former defensive caliber). Taking into consideration the potentially inflated and deflated rebounding numbers, in terms of team fit, the truth lies in between the two models. Is that a cop out answer? For sure... but it's a more quantified one.

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