Isaac Okoro could help the Cleveland Cavaliers’ playmaking efforts.
In the 2020 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are set to have the fifth overall selection, where they should be able to land a nice player to help progress further in their rebuild.
As far as realistic targets for the Cavs there, one would imagine wings such as Deni Avdija or Isaac Okoro would be in the mix, and when it comes to bigs, Obi Toppin or Onyeka Okongwu would seemingly be. That’s due to it appearing to be very unlikely that James Wiseman, frankly, would be on the board for Cleveland.
Or perhaps Devin Vassell could be in-play for the Cavs at that spot as well, although his new shot is hard to unsee.
Nonetheless, while Toppin is a player that’s been mocked to Cleveland a bunch lately, by Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor (subscription required), for instance, I could very well still see Okoro being firmly in the conversation for the Cavs. That’s whether or not Toppin is still available.
I’m personally not a big fan of Toppin for the Cavs, given major defensive concerns, whereas I’d on-board with the likes of Avdija, Okongwu or Okoro as realistic targets at that spot, conversely. But here, we’ll focus more so on Okoro, whose considered arguably the best defensive prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft.
He’s maybe the most switchable on-ball defender in this class, and from my perspective, his wing defense, which is such a glaring issue for Cleveland, could make a huge impact, even pretty early on.
Okoro is such a disciplined defender, even at just 19, and his sturdy 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame, combined with his impressive lateral quickness/functional strength and good contests on and off-ball, along with his help timing, could really aid the Cavs defense.
Here, though, something I’ll focus on that is another selling point for Okoro for the Wine and Gold is how he could aid the Cavs’ playmaking efforts on the other end. Specifically, in the pick-and-roll, he could aid the Cavs in the passing and scoring sense, in particular, and that could very well make those around him better.
Okoro has the makings of a good PnR option for the Cavs.
First off, I know Okoro needs to improve as a shooter, and him hitting just 28.6 percent from three-point range demonstrates that. Okoro is not a realistic threat in the mid-range/pull-up game at this point, either, but even with that being the case, he showed at Auburn in his lone collegiate season that he’s a dangerous driving threat.
Okoro, who had 12.9 points per outing in 2019-20, shot 60.7 percent from two-point range, which showed that, and he’s capable of finishing with touch with both hands near the basket, and he can finish through contact, too.
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And him showing plenty of flashes as a driver in the pick-and-roll could help create some quality for Cleveland, as when Okoro gets defenders parallel, he’s hard to stop going downhill/attacking interior gaps.
That also played some into Okoro averaging a robust 4.8 free throw attempts at Auburn, albeit you’d have liked to have seen him hit more than 67.2 percent from the line.
Circling back, though, while Okoro being able to be a secondary PnR scoring option at times for the Cavs would be meaningful and I’m not discounting that, his passing out of those situations is particularly appealing to me for Cleveland.
Okoro’s 2.0 assists per outing in 2019-20 didn’t really give an indication of it, but Okoro’s ability to find spray-outs to shooters in these situations, to counter his driving/slashing and polished finishing led to quality offense for Auburn when the chances were there.
In that regard, The Stepien’s Spencer Pearlman’s evaluation jumped out to me as driving that home further, too. Albeit, Pearlman did note how the volume was not really high, but his productivity in these situations was notable.
“PnR Passing: Good PnR passer – should have been used as a creator more at Auburn, but showed really nice ability when he did run it. Not comfortable hitting the roll guy with pocket passes, but can see the full court and hit all other areas – 17/23 passes were to spot ups (all over the perimeter), 4 to cutters, and 2 to the roll (only 1 was an actual roll, which was a really nice look…the other pass a pop). Flashed live-action passes to cutters, opposite wings, etc. More of a reactionary / read and see passer than a predictive passer, but shows a good feel for where the ball should go in relation to where his teammate is moving. Does a nice job getting the defense to commit and hitting the strong or weak side with a good pass – gets the ball out immediately when a man gets open.”
Projecting onward, if the Cavs were to select Okoro, out of the PnR, he could hit spot-up/catch-and-shoot threats such as Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Kevin Love, Cedi Osman and/or Dylan Windler, among others.
And though he didn’t hit passes to the interior much in those scenarios, as Pearlman noted, perhaps in coming years, at times he could hit Larry Nance Jr., for example, in those spots to counter kickouts/initiating ball-swings out of the PnR.
Okoro placing in the 93rd percentile in PnR passing efficiency, per Synergy Sports and as h/t Pearlman, even on not a huge sample size, indicates that he could definitely aid Cleveland’s playmaking efforts.
And while he may not have the vision Avdija has as a passer, Okoro’s timing in hitting shooters could still be impactful and could help lessen the playmaking burden on Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. The same would go for Kevin Porter Jr. and Dante Exum, to a lesser extent.
Moreover, while I again acknowledge Okoro has a ways to go as a shooter, him having the makings of being a good pick-and-roll option offensively for the Cavs is another selling point for him, to go with his athleticism, defensive versatility and NBA-ready build.
Cedi Osman’s struggles, especially defensively against starting 3’s could play further into Okoro’s case for Cleveland as well, with him looking to be a highly capable starting 3 in the near future. Although Cleveland could look to address the 3 spot, at least from a depth stand point, via free agency as an alternative.
Either way, it seems as if the Cavaliers will be strongly considering Okoro in the 2020 NBA Draft, which is set to commence virtually on Nov. 18.