The unexpected re-emergence of Emeka Okafor highlights the ever-changing nature of the game
Emeka Okafor was a truly special player in the collegiate ranks, dominating the competition with his shot blocking capabilities while earning himself National Player of the Year, Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Defensive Player of the Year honors and earning UConn a national championship. In addition, he maintained a strong focus on his academics and left UConn early only because he managed to complete the four-year undergraduate course in just three years.
The successes continued for him in the NBA after he was drafted second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004 behind Dwight Howard, and he rewarded their faith in him with a Rookie of the Year season. Following that, he had a solid career battling in the paint against 7-footers, holding his own with frequent double-doubles and making a career out of his defensive talents. He was not deemed a franchise player however, and eventually retired in 2013 after a neck injury.
Ever since then, Okafor has drifted out of the NBA spotlight, with his distant cousin Jahlil coming to mind more readily when the name is mentioned. Yet in 2017, four years after his supposed retirement, the 35-year-old Emeka is back in the NBA, having played well enough for the New Orleans Pelicans to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season. With his strong work ethic, his game remains in fine form as he has managed to maintain his two-blocks-per-game career average in limited minutes.
This time round, however, the 7-footers he is guarding are hanging around the perimeter and bombing away from deep. The current trend of stretch fours and fives are part of the reason why Okafor is back in the game after many seasons, with his mobility and quick feet giving him the ability to guard bigs far beyond the paint. His rebounding and defensive rotations remain excellent and provide a touch of steely resolve in today’s finesse-oriented game. With the addition of Okafor alongside Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are hoping it will tide them over till the return of DeMarcus Cousins.
Article written by Wong Chin Yi. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the NBA.