The Chris Obekpa effect (through seven games)

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

The best shot blocker in Division I's effect on St. John's defense, by the numbers.

Steve Lavin calls Chris Obekpa (5 points/ game, 7 rebounds/ game) "one of the more unique talents I have recruited in my career," and to paraphrase a line from a song, "there's no father to his style." The slim center is unquestionably the best shot-blocker in the NCAA, swatting 5.7 shots per game and making the Red Storm defense a tough one to score against. Opponents game plan against Obekpa.

The Johnnies would be much worse off without Obekpa.

John Gasaway - of ESPN, but writing on his own site - extolled the virtues of the gamechanging Chris Obekpa, noting that Obekpa's abilities to play minutes without fouling makes him an even more effective weapon than he gets credit for.

But it's hard for a player to get a lot of credit when he's not an offensive force - or when his impact is actually a team impact.

Obekpa takes 10% of the shots when on the floor for the Red Storm. So despite a far more developed post game, it's hard to notice that he has increased his shooting percentages (so far) from 45% from the field last year to a much more big-man acceptable 56%.

He's been a better rebounder. He's even shooting 50% at the line (yes, it's an improvement).

But Chris Obekpa's team impact on the Red Storm is significant beyond his personal numbers.

To get a better sense of his team impact, I isolated Obekpa's possessions on the floor and compared it to the Johnnies without him on the floor. I didn't get deep into the weeds and worry about the effects of who he was on the floor with - this is a quick-and-dirty look at how the team is different with and without Obekpa, (kind of like Garfield minus Garfield?).

Takeaways:

  • On defense, Obekpa's presence lowers the effectiveness of opponents' shots at the rim from 58% to 45%.
  • His presence forces opponents to shoot jumpers (40% of shots when he's on the floor vs. 30% when he's on the bench) instead of getting more efficient shots at the rim.
  • Opponent points scored per possession drop from .96/ possession to .91/ possession when Obekpa is patrolling the paint.
  • Interestingly for a player who isn't an elite rebounder, opponents find it harder to get offensive and defensive boards when Obekpa is on the floor.

It's not all peaches and roses; with Obekpa on the floor, opponents are shooting 35% on three-pointers  vs. 31% when he's off and more effective on jumpers (shooting 36% vs. 26% when Obekpa is off the court).

Chris Obekpa forces opponents to change the way they play, moving them from the basket and taking lower-efficiency shots.

Bonus

If you're wondering, the Red Storm are slightly better offensively (1.03 points per possession vs. 1 point per possession) without Obekpa, despite his scoring efficiency.

  • They shoot better at the rim (77% on shots at the rim compared to 59% with Obekpa on the floor), mostly because of fewer missed layups from non-Obekpa players.
  • The Red Storm draw more free throws (56% free throw rate without Obekpa, 32% FTR with him on court).
  • But with Obekpa on the floor, the Johnnies shoot better on three-pointers by a significant amount, nailing almost 35% of their threes opposed to 21% when Obekpa's not on the floor.

(I think there are "coincidences" going on here, not a real Obekpa effect.)

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