Comparing Tyson Chandler and Emeka Okafor

July, 28, 2009
7/28/09
11:33
AM ET

ESPN's John Hollinger (Insider) can't believe anyone would trade Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler, and he makes a convincing case. 

Both players consistently have been honorable mentions in my all-defense picks, but Okafor is the superior scorer. That might not be saying much -- both players are somewhat limited offensively -- but Okafor can score on post-ups occasionally and make short bank shots, while Chandler's range ends at the charge circle. Over the past three seasons, Okafor has averaged nearly five more points per 40 minutes -- that's big.

The health disparity between the two also has been mentioned, but look closer, and I'm not sure there's any difference. Okafor has averaged 66 games per season over the course of his career, Chandler 67. Chandler has a bad toe that already nuked one trade, but Okafor has a problematic back. Okafor has played 82 games each of the past two seasons, but over their careers, their injury histories show little separation. Age isn't an issue either -- they were born four days apart.

Hollinger theorizes that the Bobcats may have made the trade to reduce the team's total future financial obligation to ease a sale, or to appease Larry Brown's well-established jones for personnel turnover. In his view, it's certainly not about basketball.

The part of the analysis that's tough, however, is in quantifying the defense. Let's say we all agree that Chandler is a better defender than Okafor. How much better, and how do you judge that? Could it make up the difference, as it were, in their offensive skills? Might this still be an equal trade?

There are various different systems that attempt to measure such things, none of which is considered anything close to gospel. (Defense may win championships, but offense wins statistical assessments of individual players.)

Queen City Hoops' Brett Hainline can shed some light. He has handy charts. His painstaking process basically looks at what you'd expect opponents to do against Chandler, and then assesses what they actually did instead. The difference between those two, over time, is an approximation of a player's defensive value. This measure makes Chandler look good.

Hainline writes:

If you do not notice anything else, catch the net PER Chandler allowed: a 3.74 under expectations for his opponent. The best mark on the Bobcats this past season was Raymond Felton's 2.18, with Boris and Gerald both just over a 1. Emeka? 0.54. 

Hornets247's Ryan Schwan summarizes the findings by saying that "Chandler is an A+ defender and a C offensive player (offender?)" while "Okafor is a B- defender and a B offensive player."

By this analysis, the trade is a little more even. 

Basketballvalue's adjusted plus/minus, meanwhile, ranks Chandler as the second-most productive Hornet during last year's injury-plagued campaign. (Surprisingly, much of that is because the Hornets were somehow much better offensively when he was on the floor.) The same measures are slightly less friendly to Emeka Okafor.

A confession: Isn't there a little something else hanging out there, too? When I consider this trade, I can try to be even-handed and analytical, but what I have to fight is the reality that I have seen Chandler play a key role for an elite team -- the Hornets in the playoffs two years ago -- but I have never seen anything like that from Okafor in the NBA.

It's not fair, but that reality gives Okafor a little discount he might not deserve. Perhaps Chris Paul can help Okafor prove me wrong, but this trade feels pretty even to me.

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