“It’s really important to be able to have those kind of guys on your team when you do have a roster of young guys,” Wittman said, while adding that Okafor’s presence and consistent effort has helped Wall. “When John was struggling coming back, you could see that it was a big help and that’s a learning process for John. John is a young guy that I’m trying to develop into a leader, into a guy that we’re going to be talking about, ‘Isn’t John really helping out so-and-so now?’ It’s important to see it and I think it’s John has become a little more vocal now in talking to guys and helping guys and correcting things.”
Okafor is more a quiet leader, the kind who hopes that his example of showing up early, leaving late and committing to a consistent routine of weightlifting and film study would rub off on those around him. In his ninth season, Okafor has plenty of experience and greater perspective, which helped the team rebound from a 4-28 start and kept some teammates engaged even when they weren’t getting much playing time.
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The 2005 NBA rookie of the year, Okafor had to undergo similar growing pains as Wall in Charlotte, where he was asked to be face of the franchise from the moment he was drafted.
“I give a lot of credit to John, because he is handling his position relatively well,” Okafor, 30, said. “He’s very mature about his responsibilities and what he has to do. I’m impressed with how he’s gone about some things and his attitude. My role, again, is just to give guidance where guidance is needed. Rein in when they need to be reined in and put things in perspective.”
Wall has reduced his turnovers to just 2.9 per game since that clash with Okafor, recording five or more turnovers four times after reaching that total in five of his previous nine games.
“Having more years under my belt having those guys talking to me as much as possible, and we’re not yelling or fussing, but we can say, ‘That’s not a good shot,’ ” Wall said. Okafor “was telling me it wasn’t just because I wasn’t doing the right thing, you just have to have somebody to run the offense and get things done. I think I’ve improved.”