After Cavs’ moves, Okoro, Wade run will be all the more about defense

Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Image
Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Image /

For the Cleveland Cavaliers, this free agency period and offseason had to have been about getting more of an offensive and shooting lift. Cleveland had to address those needs to alleviate some pressure on Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Evan Mobley, and thankfully, the Cavaliers appear to have done so.

Cleveland re-signed Caris LeVert via two-year deal, and signed Georges Niang to a three-year deal, and acquired Max Strus via sign-and-trade from the Miami Heat. Strus’ contract is for four years.

From there, Cleveland acquired Damian Jones by way of trade from the Utah Jazz, and following that move, signed Ty Jerome to a two-year contract. Cleveland has two open standard roster spots, and with that 14th slot, it’d seem sensible to add a defensive wing/forward, but we’ll see what plays out in days to come on that.

With those moves by the Wine and Gold to juice their offense, especially with Strus and Niang from that perspective, it had to have led one to wonder about two other Cavaliers, though. Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade came to mind in that sense, with both having been guys that could still be specialists for Cleveland to have to go for stretches, for their defense and how they’re both glue guy-type contributors.

For both of those players from here for the Cavaliers, their argument for playing time is going to be predicated on their defensive play, and for energy minutes.

After the Cavs’ moves, Okoro and Wade run will be all the more about defense.

Okoro and Wade are not players who are going to be high-usage contributors, or be relied upon to regularly be putting up gaudy offensive counting stats.

In Okoro’s case, he has made strides as a catch-and-shoot player, and ended up converting on 36.3 percent of his three-point attempts in the regular season, a career-best through three seasons. He knocked in 44.1 percent of his deep attempts in his last 39 regular season appearances of last season, too.

The volume of deep balls last season was 2.3 per game, though, and in that 39-game span, it was 2.6 attempts per game. Okoro’s limited on-ball offensive progression has been concerning as well, and while there have been flashes of growth as a creator in attacking closeouts, his offensive limitations make it harder to forecast if he can be around long-term.

That being said, Okoro’s defense still has proven to have value for the Cavaliers, and his ball pressure, physicality and toughness have all been a factor in Cleveland’s defensive turnaround in the past two seasons.

Okoro’s tenacity and his sticky defense played into him placing in the 72nd percentile last regular season in primary defense of pick-and-roll ball handlers, on a robust 271 possessions, per Synergy Sports. Throughout games, Okoro’s on-ball expertise still can make a difference for the Cavs, and without Lamar Stevens now on the San Antonio Spurs, Okoro should warrant minutes for the Cavs still for that.

Additionally, when he’s been out there, Wade’s often helped Cleveland’s defense when playing for stretches at the 3 and 4 as well.

Granted, Wade was not the same as a shooter from the perimeter last season following his shoulder injury he suffered in early December, but similarly to Okoro, as we noted, Wade’s defense still made an impact in his minutes.

Among regular rotational contributors for the Cavs in the regular season, he did have the best defensive rating; he was active in only 44 contests, still, that was noteworthy. It was also impressive that, despite the sample size, opponents averaged 6.4 points per 100 possessions less last season when Wade was on the floor defensively, which placed in the 93rd percentile in that metric, per Cleaning The Glass.

Needless to say, despite inconsistencies for both on offense last season, Okoro and Wade both should receive rotational minutes still for their defense. It remains to be seen what the roles will end up being for them, though, and in the playoffs, down the road, too.

However, with those moves by the Cavaliers recently, there’s still going to be need for one or both throughout games because of their defensive efforts, and if the 6-foot-9 Wade can rediscover his shooting stroke from early last season, that’d be big for Cleveland. He did hit 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts in his first 17 appearances of last season, on 3.3 attempts per contest in 24.1 minutes per outing. That included nine starts.

Anyway, it’s again difficult to forecast what the roles for both Okoro and Wade could end up being, and with Okoro still at least being a possible trade candidate it seems with a contract extension feeling unlikely this offseason, he might not be around long term. It wouldn’t necessarily appear far-fetched for a similar fate for Wade, even, either, even with his contract extension from last year.

Next. What would a good 2023-24 season look like for Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen?. dark

Despite those possibilities, both do have proven value defensively for the Cavs, and their athleticism helps the case for both, too. They should still receive specialist minutes, with those things in mind.