The Cleveland Cavaliers are having a great start to the season. They are 3-1 with a dominant net rating despite missing Darius Garland for 14 of the 16 quarters, with Donovan Mitchell balling out and Cedi Osman looking like a new man off of the bench. Most of the Cavs roster is playing really well.
A team not off to a good start are the 0-4 Los Angeles Lakers, currently sporting the worst high-volume 3-point percentage in NBA history. Anthony Davis is already hobbling, LeBron James looks old, the supporting cast is one-dimensional at best and Russell Westbrook is a complete trainwreck on every level.
You can take your pick for the lowest point of his season thus far, but in terms of a total game we can point to his outing last Thursday against the LA Clippers. Westbrook shot 0-for-11 from the field in 27 minutes and scored just two points.
Playing that many minutes and scoring just two points is a glaring indicator of a bad game. Even role players who don’t see the offense run through them should find their way to a few points, whether from transition or offensive rebounds or open spot-up opportunities.
13 times this season a starter (i.e. a meaningful player for the team) has played at least 20 minutes and scored two points or fewer. Westbrook’s 0-for-11 was probably the most embarrassing, but it happens occasionally for players. It happens once, perhaps you chalk it up to bad luck.
Of those 13 instances, however, one player shows up twice. That player? The Cavs’ Isaac Okoro.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are playing well despite one of their own. How has the Cavs’ Isaac Okoro been twice as inept as Russell Westbrook?
In the Cavs’ second game in Chicago Okoro started in place of the injured Darius Garland, shooting 1-for-5 from the field to finish with just two points. The following night he logged 20 minutes in an overtime victory over the Washington Wizards and hit only one of his four shots.
It’s not like these are outlier performances, either. Okoro has just six points total on the season across four games, clearly the team’s worst starter (and causing him to lose his starting spot to Dean Wade in the Cavs’ most recent win over the Orlando Magic). The verve that Okoro showed in the final two preseason games, the excitement that he might finally be putting things together, is gone.
What’s more, Okoro isn’t providing much else during his time on the court but above-average on-ball defense. That’s helpful, of course, but he looks hesitant and even lost on the court. The other 11 players on that ignominious list all contributed something other than points while on the court; Ivica Zubac had eight rebounds, Steven Adams had four blocks, Cory Joseph has six assists. Even Westbrook had five steals.
Okoro? Three rebounds total in two games, one steal. That’s it.
Look at the statistics any way you like, and they all say the same thing: Isaac Okoro has been a dismal failure at this point in the season. His six total points in 70 minutes this season ranks last among 267 players to play at least 50 minutes. 267th!! He’s also the only guard in the league to log even 60 minutes and not record a single assist, and leaguewide only center Noah Vonleh has cleared that threshold without an assist.
Cleveland may be wishing at this point they hadn’t exercised his fourth-year option for 2023-24 so soon, as it’s very possible his $8.9 million salary for next season looks like dead money. Hopefully, Okoro can turn it around; cold stretches happen. Yet his inability to influence the game at all and his hesitance to take shots or do much of anything on offense is scary. If that continues, he could be out of the rotation by midseason.
Isaac Okoro is still only 22 years old, with a lot of pedigree and some natural ability. The Cavs are invested in helping him turn things around and find his spot on this team. For now, that might mean weathering the hit of his empty minutes; soon he may not even get those minutes.