Cleveland Cavaliers: Grading the Isaac Okoro draft pick

Auburn Tigers wing Isaac Okoro (#23) comes up with a loose ball. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Auburn Tigers wing Isaac Okoro (#23) comes up with a loose ball. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers made a solid pick in the 2020 NBA Draft in Isaac Okoro.

Heading into the draft on Wednesday night, there was still a lot of speculation about who the pick would be, but by the end of the night, it was obvious that the Cleveland Cavaliers got the guy they wanted. Cleveland did reportedly have their share of trade-down opportunities, too, per’s Chris Fedor, for further context, but they stood pat.

Below the obvious top three picks, the rest of the lottery was quite a mystery. The Athletic‘s Jason Lloyd (subscription required) reported last week that he was getting the sense that the Cavaliers had narrowed the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft down to Obi Toppin or Deni Avdija.

But later in the day on Wednesday, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman reported that he was hearing Isaac Okoro was rising high on the Cavaliers draft board. This was really the first time Okoro had been directly related to the Cavaliers in a report as a player they were seemingly zeroing in on, and it was nearly 90 minutes before the draft began. He was a player that was reportedly in their second tier, but we saw more rumors/reports about Toppin/Avdija, for instance.

While some fans were less than thrilled with the pick, as Toppin was a name many fans had gravitated toward, this was an ideal pick. Selecting Okoro fills a need the Cavaliers had while adding a prospect full of talent and potential.

Okoro should impact winning for the Cavs in coming years.

The Okoro pick was largely based on his ability on the defensive side of the ball, as our own Dan Gilinsky touched on.

Okoro was widely regarded as the top defender in the 2020 NBA Draft, and with his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame, he will be ready to go from day one. That could feasibly be as a starter fairly early on at the 3 even in place of Cedi Osman, whose had problems in that role, and Okoro will do whatever it takes to help Cleveland win.

Cavs general manager Koby Altman spoke about Okoro’s ability to make the right plays and help the team win in post-draft media availability, via the aforementioned Fedor.

"“He’s a wonderful teammate,” Altman said. “Those 50-50 plays, those loose-ball plays, those hustle plays, we call them floor burns. That gets everybody ignited. Not just team but the fan base, the city. I think that’s going to get a lot of people fired up, how intense he plays on each possession. It’s team first. He’s prideful about that. He’s humble. But he’s not lying when he says he’s a winning player.”"

Even in just his one year at Auburn, Okoro did not lack confidence and also had a professional attitude of doing whatever it took to help the team win it seemed, and clearly, that resonated with Altman and the entire front office.

This is exactly what you want to hear when it comes to a first-year player. There will not be any ego involved, and Okoro is simply going to do what Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and his staff ask of him.

There is also a hope that if the younger players such as Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. see Okoro’s work ethic on the defensive end of the floor, they will want to improve themselves on defense.

But for the early part of the season, Okoro may be able to help out if one of those guards lets his man get around him. Okoro is a great help-side defender and even came up with quite a few help-side blocks and was not afraid to step in there and take a charge as a rotator.

On a team with so many offensive-minded players, it will be refreshing to have Okoro out there who is all defense, all the time.

Now that is not to say Okoro is a liability when it comes to the offensive end because he’s not. The obvious flaw in Okoro’s game right now is his shooting percentage from the outside (28.6 percent last year) and at the foul line (67.2 percent last year).

He is also not a great isolation player in set offense and is not much of a pull-up threat, but he’s an explosive finisher as a cutter and can make things happen in the open floor when the chances arise.

While there is plenty of work for Okoro to do with his shot, he can still be effective as a secondary playmaker to aid Sexton, Garland and Porter. With such great explosiveness and an ability to finish around the rim, Okoro can make a name for himself early on with sharp cuts to get easy looks near the basket.

This will especially work when one of the Cavaliers’ primary ball handlers drives to the rim and draws the attention away from Okoro, and Sexton, for instance, did make strides as a passer as last season progressed.

So what’s my grade for this Cavs Okoro pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, then?

I’d give it a solid B+.

Cleveland’s front office addressed their defensive situation by taking a defensive-minded player. On a team full of young players who are better on offense than defense, it was a smart decision to take Okoro, who is a willing defender.

The concern is obviously whether Okoro can hit shots from the outside with consistency. With him attacking the hoop, he’ll also have to get better with his free throws.

Next. 2 key takeaways from the Cavs' Okoro draft selection. dark

If Okoro can at least become a fairly viable shooter at the NBA level in the next two-to-three seasons, he already has the defensive ability and can easily be a key piece in this Cavaliers rotation for many years to come.