At this point, the Cleveland Cavaliers do know what they have in Isaac Okoro on the defensive end, and there, he’s been an impact player.
Okoro has taken continual strides on that end of the floor for Cleveland, proving over the time, and particularly the past two seasons, how he can be a formidable presence to have against opposing wings and at the point-of-attack. His mindset there has helped set the tone for the Cavaliers in recent seasons, and his tenacity, physicality and effort on-ball have led to him forcing opponents into difficult shots, or better yet, has prevented shots in the process.
There are some limitations for him against some bigger wings or more natural 3s because of a length disparity, but for the most part, Okoro has aided Cleveland’s defense in a meaningful way in his minutes.
What is the primary concern as it pertains to Okoro’s outlook with the Cavaliers from here, though, is the offensive end.
It was apparent that coming into the league, Okoro was going to take time to be more viable on offense on a game-to-game basis. Through three seasons, he’s had 8.2 points per contest, in what’s been in an average of 27.6 minutes per outing.
On a positive note, there have been some encouraging flashes for him over his time thus far with Cleveland. His finishing has gotten better, as has Okoro’s cutting timing.
He has made progressed as a catch-and-shoot player, too, to his credit, which has led to him hitting 36.3 and previously 35.0 percent of his regular season three-point attempts in the past two seasons. In his last 39 appearances in the 2022-23 regular season, Okoro connected on 44.1 percent of his deep attempts.
Now, unfortunately, the volume is a big part of the issue with Okoro as an off-ball threat, and on-ball in set offense, he’s still limited and hasn’t been much of a secondary playmaking presence. The volume for him from three has been 2.3 attempts per contest, and 3.4 per-36 minutes, respectively.
Realistically, while his defense does have value for Cleveland, with others involved and his lack of offensive game displayed to this point, it’d be sensible for the Cavaliers to use him as a trade piece this offseason.
The Cavs should utilize Okoro as a trade piece this offseason to improve on the wing and/or on the margins.
Okoro is a candidate eligible for a contract extension this offseason, there just doesn’t appear to be a high likelihood of that happening.
Okoro has made some progress with his offense as a catch-and-shoot player from the corners, and Donovan Mitchell’s trade arrival last offseason may have had some to do with his minimal on-ball strides, but Okoro’s lack of assertiveness and other limitations are apparent.
One could see that in the playoffs, and with the Cavaliers needing more shooting around Mitchell, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley for stretches, one would be in the right to question Okoro’s fit with Cleveland long term.
With these things in mind, while Okoro is still very young at only 22, it might be best for the Cavaliers to use him as a possible trade chip this offseason. He has been a player that’s been mentioned as a potential trade piece for some time it seems as well.
The Cavaliers have often been linked to players such as Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale in possible trades with the Brooklyn Nets, and with the Nets seemingly in line to retool around Mikal Bridges, there could be avenues there to get a deal done with Okoro involved. Okoro could maybe be a young wing player that can play defense Brooklyn could have some interest in, with other future second-round picks involved, and salary filler, for instance.
There have been a plethora of trade suggestions involving the Dallas Mavericks with Cleveland, too, and with the Cavaliers having been linked to Tim Hardaway Jr., perhaps a deal involving Okoro and Dean Wade among other elements/future assets could get done at some point. Dallas needs to get better on defense, and Okoro and Wade can both be defensive assets. Cleveland would have to add a defensive piece back in that scenario, though, as an aside, or Cedi Osman could be involved with Okoro.
Lastly, with the Cavs reportedly considering potential trades to move up into the late first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, maybe Okoro could be a part of possible packages to do so, along with Cleveland’s No. 49 pick.
Teams such as the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz both have picks at the end of the first round, with Indiana having the 26th (via Cleveland) and 29th selections. With both the Pacers and Jazz having three first-round picks, one would have assume the Cavs could end up finding a possible deal with one of those clubs, and dangling Okoro as a proven defender and possible reclamation project offensively could maybe help do so with other pieces involved.
If Cleveland can land a shooter such as Dariq Whitehead, Maxwell Lewis, or combo forwards such as Jaime Jaquez Jr. or Kris Murray via potential trade up to the late first, that could give Cleveland’s bench/rotation a valuable offensive boost. We’ll have to see if the Cavs are looking to actually do that sort of maneuver, however, and this is with free agency to come, too.
Looking at next season, maybe Okoro does return, at least for the start of it. Even with that possibly occuring, at this juncture, there’s a strong argument to be made that the best use of him may be to involve the still-developing wing in a package to improve the Cavs wing outlook and/or on the margins.