Expectations aren’t lofty with Cavs’ Ochai Agbaji, but he’ll make impact

Ochai Agbaji (right), Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Ochai Agbaji (right), Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

When the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Ochai Agbaji 14th overall this past Thursday night, it was not a selection that I was jumping for joy about. It was a selection that was alright, it just wasn’t one that appeared to have high upside.

It was somewhat disappointing that neither Jalen Williams, nor Ousmane Dieng, who both ended up going to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the latter via trade, prior to Cleveland’s selection. Johnny Davis went before that to the Washington Wizards, too, for what it’s worth.

The Cavaliers could have potentially traded down, but instead they eventually just took Agbaji, which wasn’t a shock, really, it just wasn’t getting fireworks from plenty of Cavaliers fans. I’ll admit, though, the pick was understandable, in theory, with the team having often been linked to Agbaji and he can help their perimeter shooting efforts.

Now, Agbaji does not seem to be a player with the upside of a player such as AJ Griffin, or the aforementioned Dieng or Williams; despite that, he can be a useful player early on for Cleveland, and I get the allure with that.

The expectations don’t seem to be lofty, per se, with Agbaji, but that’s fine for the Cavs. He should be impactful in time.

Agbaji played four collegiate seasons with the Kansas Jayhawks, and was a key cog for them in their run to a national title a few months ago. He had a decorated senior season, and in his last year with the Jayhawks, had 18.8 points per contest.

Most notably with Agbaji, he connected on 40.7 percent of his three-point attempts this past season, and 37.7 percent of those as a junior. In 2021-22, his volume from deep was 6.5 attempts per outing, and 6.9 per contest in his junior campaign.

From the Cavaliers’ perspective here, Agbaji has the makings of a ready-made catch-and-shoot player that can help Cleveland’s rotation in that realm. Cleveland was in the middle of the pack in terms of three-point shooting hit rate, and were in the bottom third in both made triples per outing and attempts per contest.

So, with the Agbaji selection, it’s apparent that the Cavs were clearly high on how he could help the team, seemingly early on, as a potential knockdown shooter, if that translates with the longer NBA three-point line in mind. He did show some ability to hit deeper threes on catch-and-shoots at KU, though, and I believe that with his experience with the Jayhawks, and with his gradual progression as a catch-and-shoot guy, that he could definitely help Cleveland.

It’ll take time in the season to gauge the potential minutes-share for Agbaji, however. Guys such as Collin Sexton, if he returns, Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert will factor in at the 2 in their share it’d seem.

I’d imagine that LeVert could be a possible trade piece with him currently expiring; he is extension-eligible, so we’ll see, anyhow. Perhaps Okoro could be expendable down the road, as an aside, also with Lamar Stevens in the fold seemingly, to that point.

Generally, while expectations don’t look to be overly lofty looking onward, when it comes to Agbaji, given he’s 22 prior to his rookie year, as a rotational catch-and-shoot player, that’s fine.

Maybe there’s more to be had in the near future from him as a shot creator; I’m skeptical on that, in fairness, with his handling limitations. The same goes when it comes to playmaking.

All things considered, though, Agbaji is a bouncy athlete that is an especially active cutter, and quality finisher at the rim when he’s there, so that should lead to optimism for him being able to find a role pretty early on, potentially.

And defensively, he can hold his own on the perimeter, and his 6-foot-10 wingspan, combined with good basketball IQ could enable him to do competently, overall there.

Now, we’ll again have to see how things shake out lineup-wise, but even with what could maybe not be a guy with a particularly high ceiling, as opposed to some other 2022 draft selections, Agbaji could be impactful next season and in coming years.

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If the catch-and-shoot/movement feel can translate, that could be very meaningful, at least for stretches for Cleveland, and/or potentially with starters’ minutes, in theory at some point later on. Granted, we’ll need to see a body of work from him before that possibility.