Cavaliers’ Isaac Okoro was outstanding in preseason debut

Cleveland Cavaliers wing Isaac Okoro celebrates after scoring.(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers wing Isaac Okoro celebrates after scoring.(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

It’s tough to have scripted a better preseason debut for Isaac Okoro for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers had their preseason opener on Saturday versus the Indiana Pacers, and just for the team to be back out there was a boost. Cleveland’s last regular season game action was on March 10, in what was a close loss at the Chicago Bulls.

Along those lines, for both teams, there was a ton of slop, objectively for both teams, but I give them a pass overall in a general sense. From the Cavs’ perspective, they had 26 turnovers in the game, and among the starters, and Dante Exum and Darius Garland, for instance, had five giveaways a piece.

That said, as I was hoping for coming into it, I was a big fan of the assertiveness of Garland as a scorer in that one, and he had 14 points on six-of-11 shooting. He looked shiftier, too, which was on-script for how he reportedly was in the Cavs voluntary in-market bubble team workouts.

Exum had seven points and five assists, too, and Thon Maker (10 points, 10 rebounds and two steals), along with Dylan Windler (eight points and eight boards), were especially active on the defensive end.

Windler, who went two-for-six from the field and four-of-seven from the free throw line, had the yips as a shooter, sure, but he didn’t play at all in 2019-20 with Cleveland due to injury, so let’s cut him some slack in that way.

Damyean Dotson looked good in his preseason/Cavs debut, too, when he was out there and had 12 points on five-of-six shooting (two-of-two from three-point range), to go with three assists.

Of course, while Collin Sexton (minor ankle injury) not being active likely had some to do with it, Cedi Osman, to his credit, did light it up, and I’m not discounting that. Cedi had a game-high 23 points, to go with five rebounds, in 22 minutes, but not having to defend T.J. Warren at the other end (foot injury) was notable in terms of the defensive end.

And lastly, Larry Nance Jr. I thought was a standout, particularly on the defensive end, and he brought the Cavs juice, and him having 10 rebounds in 17 minutes was big.

Anyway, in a general sense, it was preseason sloppy play to a large extent, albeit what really jumped out for the Cavaliers was the play of fifth overall pick Isaac Okoro.

Okoro was outstanding for the Cavs on Saturday.

Firstly, Okoro’s ball pressure on the defensive end, which was a key seller for him throughout the time leading up to the 2020 draft, was as advertised.

He was getting up into Pacers, and in instances against Victor Oladipo and/or Malcolm Brogdon (via switchouts mostly), I thought he was sitting and sliding really well.

Plus, his timing in rotations off-ball were solid for a rookie in his first preseason, but game action, regardless. Moreover, in the outing, Okoro had three steals, too.

And on the offensive end, I thought while the first half it was slow for him and he had four turnovers in the game, Okoro’s cutting activity was a bright spot, and in the transition game, he was great.

For the rookie’s first bucket, his body control on this basket paid off for him, and this sort of thing is partly why I believe he could very well start fairly early on at the 3 for Cleveland (he’s reportedly in a battle for that with Osman and Windler). The defensive end is another seller, for what it’s worth, in that way.

Additionally, while I obviously take into consideration that it is just preseason, Okoro did help lead the Cavaliers back in the fourth quarter and had 16 of his 18 points in the game in that closing period on Saturday.

And while two spot-up triples were meaningful for him in the game, this sort of finish on this up-and-under after countering a hard closeout was something I really loved to see from the rook. I believe we’ll see it on a nightly basis, which will make Cleveland more versatile in the finishing realm, too.

Lastly, there was the two-way play at the end of this one for the rookie, in which he shut the door on T.J. McConnell (I know it was only preseason), and then got up the floor and delivered via and-1 after a nice lead pass from Dotson. That was the game-winner.

So, anyhow, I get it was only preseason, and Okoro should still be mostly at the 3 when he’s out there for the Cavs, albeit it’s difficult to have scripted a better preseason debut for Okoro.

He was so active/engaged defensively and though there were some rough moments offensively, his movement stood out, and his finishing ability/play in the open floor was so encouraging for next season, I thought.

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His teammates already seem to love him, too, and I’d just looking forward to seeing Okoro out there when the games that count begin. But it was, all in all, an outstanding first preseason outing I thought for “Ice.”