Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Obekpa's impressive feat
By Matt Giles
In the high school ranks, Chris Obekpa was known as an imposing big, a player capable of changing a game defensively by blocking virtually every shot that entered the interior. After a long recruitment, one that carried into the spring, Obekpa committed to St. John's (over Cincinnati) and while his offense is still very much a work in progress -- the majority of Obekpa's attempts come from ally-oops, put backs, and and drop-offs from the Red Storm guards -- Obekpa's defense is a large reason why SJU is a team capable of upsetting every ranked and unranked opponent the remainder of the 2013 season.
Per Ken Pomeroy, the 6-foot-9 freshman is leading the nation in block percentage, rejecting 18.5 percent of opponents' attempts. This is incredibly impressive because Obekpa first manages to deflect the shot either to a teammate or is able to keep the block in play, which often leads to a fast-break (which, for Steve Lavin's crew, is crucial because of the squad's dependence on transition buckets), and the freshman can then avoid a needless foul. The big is committing just four fouls per 40 minutes, a rate which is low for a freshman so integral to SJU's defense (.93 points per possession). Most newcomers invariably pick up cheap fouls that keeps them on the bench for stretches, but Obekpa is able to use his timing and leaping ability to avoid pump-fakes and then deflect a shot with his length and still bypass body contact.
As John Gasaway of ESPN and Basketball Prospectus notes, the combination of freshman, blocks, and 'reasonable foul rate' are usually not paired together, but the big's presence has helped SJU stay competitive when their offense is stagnant. Also, his mobility -- Obekpa is easily able to track an opponent from the three-point line to the basket -- has changed the Johnnies defense to a more amorphous match-up zone.