The Cleveland Cavaliers have made a major investment in Isaac Okoro. He was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and was immediately entrenched as the starting small forward. He has logged 174 starts over the last three seasons, more than any player outside of the core four. He has been the starting small forward for this team.
The issue with Okoro has not been his defense. He is one of the league’s best backcourt defenders, capable of hounding point guards across the entire court, fighting over screens and picking plenty of pockets. He has a defined role on defense, one that is especially useful to the Cavs as neither of their starting guards are plus defenders.
The issue is on offense, and it’s enough of an issue to doom Okoro in the NBA if he can’t find a way to take a major step forward. Okoro isn’t an on-ball player, creating advantages with his dribble or scoring on self-generated shots. He needs to be an off-ball scorer, but his jumpshot is such that he is not defended at all. He’s the modern-day Tony Allen, and the New York Knicks completely ignored him in their playoff series last spring and smothered the rest of the Cleveland offense.
If Okoro can become an average shooter, he becomes a rotation option; if he cannot, he will stick around at the end of rosters for a few years based on his defensive talent. If the Cavaliers are building a rotation to excel in the playoffs, the ship may have sailed on Okoro playing a major role.
He’s another excellent chemistry guy, and his defense is legitimately helpful to the Cavs; they are hoping his shot does come around. For now he’s the clear option to cut from among these three, with Max Strus leading the way to start for the Cavaliers this season.