Cavs: Isaac Okoro has been ‘all over the place defensively’ in camp

Auburn Tigers forward Isaac Okoro blocks a shot. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Auburn Tigers forward Isaac Okoro blocks a shot. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

Isaac Okoro is going to be an impact defender for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I was a big fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers selecting Auburn wing Isaac Okoro fifth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Okoro looks to be a ready-made defender, and with the Cavs having needed to address that on the wing, in particular, given Cedi Osman’s woes against starting-caliber 3’s, that was a wise pick. Okoro, who is a rock solid 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, could seemingly be the starting 3 pretty early on, even with such a quick turnaround from the draft to the upcoming season.

In that realm, per a report from’s Chris Fedor, heading into the 2020-21 campaign, the starting 3 spot is a battle between Osman, Okoro and Dylan Windler.

Nonetheless, given that Windler did not play in game action with the Cavs at all last season, due to complications involving a stress fracture in his lower left leg, I’d still expect him to be mostly a bench contributor next season.

Fedor did mention in that report how some within the Cavaliers organization believed Windler was “destined” to take over the starting 3 role near the midpoint of last season, albeit the injury issue kaboshed that.

Frankly, I’d expect him to be a bench contributor next season, anyhow, but he should seemingly have a key bench role in stretches at the 2/3 mostly. Windler, who hit 40.6 percent of his 534 career three-point attempts in a four-year collegiate tenure at Belmont, can really shoot it, is a highly capable finisher, nice passer and has a polished pull-up game.

Regarding Osman, I’d expect him to start at the 3, but would seem to be more of a bench contributor after fairly early on, in large part due to Okoro’s defensive capabilities. And in a report from Tuesday, Fedor noted how per a source and a Cavs player, Okoro’s defensive chops have been on-brand early on in training camp.

"‘He’s been all over the place defensively in the first few days of camp,’ a source told‘He’s an absolute ox,’ a player said via text message. ‘He looks good. Super active. He’s been a lot of fun to watch.'”"

This reaffirms how Okoro could be a big-time defender for the Cavs.

It’s again clear as day that what first came to mind after the Okoro selection was that the Cavs were prioritizing getting better on the defensive end.

Okoro is truly switchable 1-4, and with his ability to sit and slide, deter drivers/mirror ball handlers to deter pull-ups consistently, his defensive abilities will often be on display. Okoro placed in the 90th percentile in one-on-one defensive situations in his lone collegiate season at Auburn, per Synergy Sports.

But he has great feel/instincts as a rotator off-ball, too, and I believe he’ll aid the likes of Darius Garland, Kevin Love and Collin Sexton, to go with Kevin Porter Jr./Osman/Windler when he’s on the floor with them in that way.

For such a young player, Okoro is a high IQ defender, and closes out well, both on and off-ball, though he’s particularly long for his height. Moreover, as that Fedor source hit on about Okoro being “all over the place defensively,” early on in camp, it just drives home to me how from the jump, he has the makings of an impact defender for the Cavaliers.

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Along those lines, Okoro is always a player that’s going to go after loose balls, stunt on to drivers when that’s appropriate/timed up, and he has good feel as a rotator to help be vertical/make plays defensively near the rim. Okoro having a block rate of 3.1 percent in 2019-20 was notable for a non-big.

Now, I get that in terms of the other end, Okoro, who hit only 28.6 percent of his three-point attempts last season, will need to prove himself more as a catch-and-shoot player from the perimeter in-game.

That said, as Fedor and Bickerstaff hit on, Okoro is a highly capable playmaker for others, and though he didn’t get many opportunities in his season at Auburn to showcase that, Okoro was productive in a pick-and-roll playmaking sense in spraying out to shooters via drive-and-kicks.

I believe on the Cavs, we should see that a fair amount in coming years when he’s in there, too, which can aid in taking pressure off of Garland/Sexton/KPJ.

Okoro as a driver, though, in the scoring sense, is outstanding in the open floor. And in settled offense, his frame and ability to finish through contact pays dividends as a finisher, and he had a robust 4.8 free throw attempts per game in 2019-20.

Plus, he has nice touch there; overall, in shots around the rim in the halfcourt, Okoro placed in the 89th percentile, per Synergy.

Okoro’s a productive cutter, too, and is a formidable lob threat, so he’ll affect games offensively as well. So even while him having 12.9 points per outing at Auburn might not have blown people away, he’ll affect games on that end.

But as that Fedor source/that Cavs player referenced alluded to, Okoro, from the jump in his minutes-share, whatever that ends up being, could very well be a big-time defender it seems.

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And for a Cavs squad that’s ranked last in the NBA in defensive rating the past two seasons, that’s nice to know for looking onward.