Daniel Ochefu didn’t experience the sophomore leap some were expecting this past year, but nonetheless he was a necessary cog in JW’s machine. He ate up vital minutes, stayed out of foul trouble, and did not suffer a major injury. Considering the embarrassingly thin front court behind him (and stacked backcourt beside him), that is really all Villanova needed. The 2013 Wildcats were a three point friendly team on offense, and unfortunately, also at times on defense.
The center position was not a big part of their game plan, and lack of failure from the 5 was viewed as a success. While it’s very unlikely that the team undergoes any real philosophical mutation into next season, ANY improvements by Chief can be taken as a cherry-on-top. Ochefu oscillated between solid and maddeningly headless play. Chief showed flashes of brilliance, and then followed it up with mental hiccup after mental hiccup. These radical bounces from good to bad to ugly have turned him into the new generation James Bell.
I have turned into a sort of Ochefu-apologist, but defending his play is a roller coaster in itself. He has plenty of room for growth on both ends of the court, and still looks lost at times. But Chief stock is trending upwards, and continuing to climb will make Villanova a vastly scarier match up next March.
Quick takes from shot chart
- Finished 27/34 (79.4%) from each side of the rim (Vitruvian Man?)
- Took a whopping 68/99 shots at the rim
- When he took ‘jumpers’ from inside the paint, the left side (6/11, 54.6%) was friendlier than the right side (6/15, 40.0%)
- From January 11th game at St. Johns though February 18 game at PC, a 11 game stretch, enjoyed his best part of the season.
Conventional statistics paint Chief as a very average center. He averaged only 21.7 minutes per game, good for a 5.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, and 1.4 apg split. Considering how rarely he got in foul trouble (only 2.8 fouls per game), and the aforementioned front court depth issues, it is remarkable that JW functionally played him for only half of every game. Maybe this is why he is the last contributor to get an article in the vaunted ‘yB-Corr Summer Slam.’ Or maybe it’s because his shot chart has more white on it than (insert borderline racist, albeit true, Vanillanova aphorism here). Either way, when you dive a bit deeper into his stats, there are reasons to appreciate his overall value to the team.
Beginning on the offensive end, Villanova shot a combined 47.9% from the field with him on the floor. That’s good for second best on the team, behind only the team's lineups including James Bell, coming in at 48.1%. This stat was certainly padded by Ochefu shooting 55.4% himself on the season, but that is no reason to de-value his presence.
Villanova’s offense didn’t always play its best with Chief on the floor, but at HIS best (especially in the 11 game stretch mentioned above), the team would briefly take on a different look. Instead of the very predictable, ball movement-induced three pointer that Villanova lived and died on, Chief (at times) played like a sort of point-center. His back door passes to cutters along the base line led to easy hoops. This wrinkle oftentimes forced the other team to go small, and allowed him to settle in to a more orthodox center spot. The changes led to some catch-and-dunks over smaller defenders, which provided valuable points when jump shots weren’t falling.
Lastly, there is no bigger rush for a Villanova basketball fan than watching Ochefu gallop down the floor on a fast break and throw down a big dunk. Ochefu was never the centerpiece of the offense, but he wasn’t asked to be. At his best, the offense ran fluidly around him and his presence in and out of the paint improved spacing for shooters. There are plenty of scorers on the roster, and having a big man serve as a facilitator adds its own value offensively.1 At his worst, he set moving screens and just kind of got in the way.
Ochefu’s defensive value similarly see-sawed throughout the season. At times he was a force around the rim, swatting away any and all shots in the paint and asserting an authoritative presence. At his worst, he got caught out of position on pick and rolls, mucked up defensive assignments, and rotated slowly against the three. Statistically, averaging 1.5 blocks and .7 steals per game in under 22 minutes is impressive. Looking deeper into the statistics, the highest percentage of steals (10.73% of possessions) and blocks (7.76%) occurred with him on the floor. Furthermore, teams got to the rim at the second lowest rate (again, behind Bell) with him on the floor. So at times, Chief was an above average rim protector who generated turnovers at a very high rate. However, teams shot 36.5% from three with him on the floor (second worst on the team), which is likely related to his poor rotations. He sometimes had a deer in the headlights look, which immediately led to a substitution. This helps explains his low minutes per game, as JW seemed to tell which games he could trust Chief, and which to stick to small-ball.2 For the season, the good and bad balanced each other out on the defensive end of the court.
There’s no doubting Chief’s potential to alter games both offensively and defensively. Jimdribbles would NOT have a shrine to him for no reason. He has shown glimpses of an (unpolished) inside game, and has occasionally looked like Patrick Ewing on defense. Consistency has always been his largest issue, and on a team this stacked (regardless of ‘positional thinness,’), there is no room on the court in crunch time for inconsistency.
Coach Wright has already shown that he would rather go VERY small than have Ochefu running around the floor aimlessly. However, if Chief continues to develop into a better all-around player, he will find himself in more big moments. Offensively, he needs to polish his offense game around the rim and add a medium range jump shot3 (similar to Pena and Mouph) for offensive spacing purposes. Furthermore, he needs to continue his upward trajectory from the free throw line if he wants to play more important minutes. Teams would much rather foul Chief and watch him clank two free throws than see Hilliard knock down an open three late in the game.
Defensively, he needs to improve his court awareness, spacing, and rotations. Chief has the opportunity to be remembered as a real difference maker on defense and a solid contributor on offense. In order to get there, he must iron out any inconsistencies and continue to develop these basic basketball skills.
The difference between a being March Madness contender and pretender is oftentimes a reliable big man; Daniel Ochefu has the potential to give Villanova just that. It’s up to Chief to get to the top (or at least middle) of the totem pole.
1. Corollary's Note: An underrated part of his offensive game: rebounding. He was the best offensive (and defensive) rebounder on the team, pulling down a full 10.4% of the team's misses while he was on the floor (just on his own!). As we talked about in Josh Hart's shot chart prescription article, offensive rebounds can be an important source of 'extra' possessions and easy putback points.↩
2. Corollary's Note: I think a big part of Chief's limited minutes, other than his obvious occasional struggles with fouls and turnovers, is the suboptimal spacing of the floor when both he and JVP share the floor. I know JD loves the meshing of those two down there, but as both lack a super-reliable jump shot, it can get crowded around the rim - as anyone covering either can cheat off when they're not close to the rim to help double the guy closer to it, leaving both of them with less room to work with. JVP obviously got a more sizable chunk of the minutes, perhaps sacrificing Ochefu's minutes when JW didn't want to sacrifice his precious spacing↩
3. Not you too↩