Cavs preseason showed how Okoro can make significant two-way strides

Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports) /

Entering his third season starting Wednesday, Isaac Okoro has showed impressive signs of improvement this offseason in which he showcased during this past couple of weeks during the preseason. Coming into the league out of Auburn in the 2020 NBA Draft where he was selected 5th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he stood out as a defensive lockdown-type prospect, which is what the Cavs desperately needed to fill a void at that time.

Well times have most definitely changed a lot since then, considering the fact that Cleveland acquired Jarrett Allen via trade early in the 2020-21 campaign, and then followed that up by drafting their unicorn, in Evan Mobley. Now as this team tries to make a playoff run this season, I am starting to believe that Okoro will be a legitimate standout in his role and thrive in defending the other teams’ best perimeter players.

Now I know Okoro isn’t necessarily the greatest 3-point shooter sitting at just 35% from three just a season ago, but he also isn’t the worst, and did demonstrate growth there, even on low volume. After what I’ve seen from him this preseason, I’m sort of getting a certain fearless vibe from him, and he might really get it going as a two-way player.

With what he displayed in Cavs preseason, Okoro could potentially make significant two-way strides in his third year.

In previous seasons he has been playing hard-nosed defense and has sort of carried that junkyard mentality since his rookie year. As of now it looks like he has put in the work this offseason in improving his 3-point range and attacking the basket with more confidence.

Understandably he was quite hesitant to shoot playing alongside guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but that certainly didn’t stop him from continuing to get better. Whether or not he does start at the 3, I do expect him to continue to make strides this coming year and he’ll have his share of chances.

Now, it’s not promised that Okoro could develop into players like Kawhi Leonard from the LA Clippers, or even Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat, but I do know that that’s what turned them into the talents that they are as of now. I also know that over the course of his two seasons, Okoro has been asked to take on the task of guarding the oppositions’ best perimeter player. He has the makeup and skill set to succeed in his role primarily because he’s a defense-first type of player, and he’s shown he has the work ethic to get better.

Playing with Donavan Mitchell this season should be another learning and growing season for Okoro as the season begins and progresses but he will get his chance to display his abilities whenever called upon, just as he did versus the Atlanta Hawks last week. In that one, he scored 16 points in 33 minutes while shooting 77 percent and going 7-of-9 on the court and he shot 2-of-4 from 3-point land.

He has been moving more effectively off the ball than he had in previous seasons, and you definitely had a glimpse of what he could do on the offensive side of the court. Isaac is also a ferocious athlete and he has the ability to get to the basket at times with his physicality, which was also on display against the Hawks, when he was a crucial part of a 12-0 scoring run by the Cavs, driving to the rim at will.

Following up on his 16 points versus Atlanta in that third preseason game, Okoro also contributed on the defensive side with 3 steals even though we all know he is capable of getting that on any given night. It was a joy to see him follow up that performance with 17 points in 24 minutes in Orlando against the Magic where he went 6-of-7 (85.7 percent shooting) with 1 three-pointer, including a block and a steal, which proved once again that he could actually develop into a really solid 2-way player. I’m not suggesting he could get to the levels of the players mentioned earlier, but the potential is there.

As the season starts tonight, I think fans should be thrilled about what they’ve seen from Isaac Okoro as he develops and comes into his own now in his third year and he shows promise, not only on the defensive side where he started as a specialist, but also as he develops his offensive game further.

Fans should also be excited about him fitting into this new and improved team not only on the backcourt but Isaac could now focus a little on his scoring while the paint is being utilized by the likes of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. That’d allow Okoro to focus on his defensive assignment as well as having energy to score when his number is called, again, whether he does typically start or come and play significant minutes off the bench. Okoro will most likely once again be called upon to guard top opposing scorers for stretches, however, I’d look to see him tap more into his offensive abilities this year, coupled with that.

Cavalier fans have a lot to be excited about this season, with their new-look squad, and a young and hungry team. Okoro is a player that should factor well into things, also, and if he wants to live up to his potential and become the player that many believe he could be, then he needs to continue to be aggressive attacking the basket and hopefully, the work he’s reportedly put in regarding his three-point shooting can pay off as well.

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Now, the Cavaliers defense will still be the key for them, and Okoro will play a key role on that end. But, if Okoro can provide more game-to-game on offense, that’d be huge, and it’d make this Wine and Gold team all the more dangerous.