Why Ochai Agbaji was the perfect draft pick for the Cavs at #14

Ochai Agbaji (right), Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Ochai Agbaji (right), Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Ochai Agbaji with the No. 14 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. While they could have gone in many different directions, they decided to add a player who can light it up from the outside on offense and lock down the perimeter on defense.

Agbaji played four seasons with the Kansas Jayhawks, racking up a ton of accolades in his final year. With averages of 18.8 points per game and 5.1 rebounds, the 22-year-old had quite the senior season, being named the Big-12 Player of the Year, Big-12 Tournament MVP, and the 2022 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Needless to say, he proved his value ahead of the draft.

He excels at shooting from deep, especially out of the catch-and-shoot position. Agbaji knocked down 40.7% of his threes last season on 6.5 attempts per game. This was a noticeable jump from his freshman season in which he shot just 30.7% from three.

Since Agbaji is such a threat as a perimeter shooter, he showed he can take advantage of aggressive closeouts from his opponents and blow by defenders to finish at the rim. He might not be much of a creator on offense, but he can shoot the ball at a high clip and finish at the rim with the best of them. These are traits the Cavs need more consistently from their wings.

While it took him a couple of seasons to grow as a shooter, it didn’t stop him from leading Kansas in scoring each of the last two seasons. He’s shown that he can bring a scoring punch to Cleveland, which is something they desperately needed in the latter half of the season.

He made his mark as a shooter, but he shouldn’t be underestimated as an athlete. Agbaji is great at moving without the ball and putting himself in position to fly to the rim. He has a 39-inch max vertical leap, which ranked fourth in this years combine. So, not only can Darius Garland find Agbaji on the outside for threes, but he can also look for him to make quick, backdoor cuts for some highlight dunks as a lob threat.

He will also pose as a transition threat, considering he shined in fastbreaks with the Jayhawks. Agbaji had a three-quarter sprint time of 3.13 seconds at the combine, which was reportedly the fifth-fastest time among all participants. He can flat out move on the basketball court.

Additionally, one of the most impressive aspects of Agbaji’s game is how he elevates his game when the lights are bright. After getting off to a slow start in the NCAA Tournament, he turned it around by averaging 17 points per game in the final three games of the tournament, leading Kansas to their first National Championship since 2008.

An underrated part of his skill set is his defensive ability. He stands at 6’5″ with a 6’10” wingspan that he uses to disrupt passes and block shots. Agbaji can defend one through three, which is going to be key to his success in at the next level. He should be able to lean on new teammate Isaac Okoro to help him polish his game in that regard.

The Wisconsin native should play a similar role to Caris LeVert and Isaac Okoro. Depending on the matchup, he might find himself in the starting lineup on some nights. With his versatility as a true two-way wing, I expect Agbaji to carve out his role sooner rather than later, especially if Okoro continues to struggle from deep. Okoro’s shooting has been spotty through two seasons.

His lack of playmaking potential is a fair critique. His ball-handling is not as advanced as you would like to see and his passing needs some work. However, he wasn’t drafted for his playmaking ability. He was drafted because he can make an immediate impact on the team’s perimeter shooting and defense. He’s the two-way player they were looking for.

Others might be disappointed that they passed on former Duke standout AJ Griffin. While he might have been an enticing option at pick 14, he did have serious injury concerns. This might have been what prevented the Cavaliers from taking the highly-touted player who seemingly fell down the board.

Nevertheless, I think Cleveland made the right call. Ochai Agbaji is the plug-and-play wing the Cavs need. He is your traditional 3-and-D player and will be ready to shoot every time Garland looks his way.

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The Cavaliers didn’t have very many holes last season, but if they had one, it was shooting depth at the wing positions. Agbaji should be the perfect answer.