How Isaac Okoro fits into the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers

Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

It is no secret that Isaac Okoro‘s future with the Cleveland Cavaliers was in question coming into the offseason. Drafted fifth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, Okoro is still working to find his fit with the Cavaliers and the NBA overall.

When Okoro joined Cleveland, he was taken on as a project with an already established defensive game. Coming out of Auburn, Isaac “Ice” Okoro earned his reputation for holding rival scorers to tough shots with hustle and grit.

Though his defensive talent was undeniable, the Cavaliers selected him with expectations they will be able to develop Okoro’s three-point shooting to mold him into a solid 3-and-D NBA wing. He typically plays with the starting roster but has consistently competed for the spot every season.

Unfortunately, Okoro’s development was cut short when the Cavs accelerated their rebuild. After Darius Garland’s breakout year and Evan Mobley’s historic rookie campaign, Cleveland brought Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell into town in a blockbuster trade.

Now, Okoro is an impressive athlete that can be an impactful contributor, but Cleveland’s speedy growth has left Ice in NBA limbo.

To an extent, the Cavaliers created an unfair scenario for Okoro. He has shown growth and potential, hitting his highest three-point percentage of his career last season at 36.3 percent. Unfortunately, Ice has yet to solidify himself in the league. His shooting has been streaky, and his undersized build suggests he may be better-suited to play at the two guard spot rather than the small forward position.

While his shooting has improved, his minutes per game has steadily decreased. Thus, Okoro’s opportunities for growth have diminished. During his rookie season, Okoro averaged 32.4 minutes per contest. Last season, his role fell only to 21.7 minutes per game.

Due to his inconsistent fit, his name appeared in numerous trade rumors both at the NBA trade deadline and the beginning of free agency. After the Cavs brought both Max Strus and Georges Niang to Believeland, Okoro remained on the roster.

Okoro’s continued improvement is surely a reason the Cavaliers value keeping him on the team. He brings energy to the squad and can hold his own against the rival’s best offensive threat on the perimeter.

Seemingly, his spot in Cleveland is safe going into the next season, but his role will likely shift with Cleveland’s new-look Cavaliers.

Isaac Okoro’s new opportunities might boost his career.

At the end of next season, Okoro will likely enter restricted free agency with an $11.8 million qualifying offer unless the Cavaliers and Okoro agree on an extension before then.

This season is a prove-it year for Okoro. With Max Strus joining the Cavs, Okoro will likely come off the bench come opening night. Strus’ offensive and shooting range is more fully developed than Okoro, but Strus is not nearly the defense powerhouse that Okoro is.

In the starting five, Cleveland’s frontcourt of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen anchor the defense. With Okoro in the secondary unit, he will be the leader on the defensive end. His best quality will be appreciated more than ever before.

Okoro can produce on the second unit in which he can earn a larger share of the offensive load as well. With a number of scorers in the starting lineup, Okoro became the last option for most possessions. Coming off the bench, Okoro will not have to compete for touches with numerous All-Star-level talents. This will put Okoro in position to continue his development again.

With Ty Jerome and Caris LeVert in the reserve rotation, Okoro may also have the opportunity to play more minutes at the shooting guard position again. The ideal bench lineup also includes a swarm of shooters, meaning Okoro would not need to be the primary long range threat on the court.

While playing off the bench would again downsize Okoro’s role in Cleveland, his minutes played would be more effective each night for growth. The pressure to perform is alleviated, and the chances to lead the bench squad are elevated. Okoro will have an all-new look to his career, and it may be the best that he has ever looked.

Fans have seen Okoro’s value when given openings to showcase it. At his best, he is intercepting a pass and speeding across the floor to end with an emphatic dunk, or he is catching a pass in the corner to sink a timely three-pointer to swing the momentum in Cleveland’s favor.

In the end, Isaac Okoro is a glue guy in development. The Cavaliers are a team in need for that type of player. Thankfully, Cleveland will offer him the opportunity to continue that maturing process.

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Moving permanently to the bench is a harrowing request, but Okoro’s work ethic and team-centric focus makes him the best player for the job.