Cavs: Isaac Okoro’s big night vs. Suns was nice step for his confidence

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff (left) talks with Cleveland wing Isaac Okoro in-game. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff (left) talks with Cleveland wing Isaac Okoro in-game. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

Isaac Okoro has not had a rookie season where he’s lit it up as a scorer a bunch of the time for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coming into the season, we knew that he could appear to be fairly raw on the offensive end, and that’s objectively looked to be the case.

On the season, he’s had 9.0 points per contest in an average of 32.0 minutes per outing. His three-point shooting hit rate has been just 29.5 percent overall, and he has a ways to go to be a consistent catch-and-shoot threat from beyond the arc.

There have been flashes of three-point shooting from him, though, albeit he does need to progress there.

And on-ball, Okoro is not a pull-up threat at this point. That sort of thing, and tightening up his handle needs to be stressed for him in this upcoming offseason heading into his second season.

But Okoro post-All-Star has seemed to appear more assertive, and particularly from last month until this point, we’ve seen him more aggressive in getting to looks in the paint/near the rim.

In April, he had his season-highs twice over, and then ended up doing so three times in a loss at the Toronto Raptors last week, in which he had 20; that outing was overlooked by Kevin Love’s near-end of third quarter blunder, though. In April, for further context, Okoro had 10.7 points per outing, and as the season has progressed, we’ve seen strides for him as a cutter, which has been positive, too.

Nonetheless, he does still need to improve on the offensive end, particularly in the scoring sense.

But as the year has worn on, he’s appeared to feel gradually more confident out there, and even while the Cavaliers are severely banged up at the moment and have been struggling by and large, Okoro was a key cog for Cleveland in nearly upsetting the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

Isaac had another season-best, this time with 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and hit three-of-four from three-point range. He was not settling though, and using his strength/driving abilities to get to the rim/in the paint and hit all nine of his free throw attempts.

Meanwhile, Collin Sexton had 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and he became the second-youngest Cavs player in team history to hit 4,000 points; LeBron James was the youngest. Sexton was the fourth-quickest player to hit that mark, both per Cavs Notes.

From there, Jarrett Allen did his thing with 17 points and eight rebounds, to go with five assists, even. Cedi Osman, who was in again with extended burn, seemingly because of Darius Garland being out (ankle sprain) and with others sidelined, had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists, too.

But the big takeaway from that one was Okoro’s performance.

Okoro’s big night for the Cavs versus Phoenix was a nice step for his confidence.

This was a nice step for Okoro, and he and Collin Sexton led the Wine and Gold back in the third quarter after they were down by 12 at one point. Sexton, for the record, had 15 big points in that third quarter, and Okoro had seven.

With the Cavaliers so thin in this one, though, Okoro’s contributions were key in getting the Cavs right into things down the stretch. Okoro’s 11 fourth quarter points were crucial for Cleveland getting this down to the wire, too, even while they would get worked in overtime by Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges, in particular.

But throughout the game before that, Okoro was again getting to the rim, looked comfortable in the pick-and-roll, and he tied his season-best with six assists as well, which was another key positive.

As the season has progressed, and more so post-All-Star, Okoro’s confidence offensively has also seemed to be growing. We’ve again especially seen that from the past month-and-a-half or so, and nights like that one at Toronto, well Tampa at the moment, a game at Miami last month, and this one on Tuesday at home have to have given him a boost.

The Cavs would get worked in OT, and credit Booker and Paul for their brilliance, and Book hit some really high-difficulty buckets, but Okoro having a 30 piece against the #1 seed in the Western Conference was definitely something.

That was a nice step for Okoro, and it had to have been meaningful for his confidence. And as Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff hit on postgame, the team has “high hopes” for Okoro for the near future, and should, factoring in the defensive abilities he’s shown and often solid play even in tough matchups.

Okoro, who played 47 big minutes, had a whale of an effort against Phoenix, and even though the Cavaliers didn’t end up with a W, it was quite the performance. And as Cavs Notes alluded to, Okoro was the first Cavs rookie to hit the 30-point mark since Jordan McRae in 2016.

So props go to Ice for that performance, and keeping the Cavs right in it.

This was hopefully something for him to build on, and keep growing in regards to his confidence, which has come along as the season has progressed it seems offensively, and ideally continues to build up heading into his second year.

Ideally, he’ll need to tighten up his handle/improve some as a shooter, particularly off-the-bounce looking onward, too, of course, as KJG’s John Suchan alluded to.

Next. Osman will have his share of playmaking chances in rest of season. dark

But the encouraging signs offensively have been there more and more of late.