A 1-3 start to the season is not what anybody was hoping for as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan. Cleveland has dropped their past three contests, and Wednesday night’s game at the New York Knicks, who handled them on Tuesday night at home, is going to be a tough task.
In fairness, the Cavaliers have not been healthy to begin the season, which isn’t going to make things easier. Cleveland has had Darius Garland in one game thus far, and Jarrett Allen is yet to play this season. The early injury problems are not how a club wants to begin a new campaign, and those have made it more difficult for guys to be in-rhythm, and for role pieces to find their way.
That being said, there still have been some positives, and in that realm, despite the Ls, Isaac Okoro has been one of the bright spots for the Cavs. Props to him for stepping up.
Okoro did make some progress as a shooter last season, and over time, his shooting stroke has come a long way. There was some growth from him in the past regular season, and as a result, he hit 36.3 percent of threes, thanks to a strong second half in that aspect.
Thus far this season and after a strong preseason, he has started out strong on his catch-and-shoots, too. Okoro has shot five-of-12 from three through four outings, a 41.7 percent clip.
This isn’t to suggest he’s fitting the “three” part of the three-and-D mold, but there’s been signs of growth in that area, and the release and stroke has appeared way more fluid than it was a couple of seasons ago. There have not been errant misses there were to begin last season, for example, and when he’s been open, he has seemed less hesitant to let the shot go.
Those are things to build on for him, and it’s also been encouraging to watch Okoro’s early offensive aggression.
Okoro had 18 points in Cleveland’s opening W at the Brooklyn Nets, and through four games, has been a bright spot for the Cavaliers with 12.5 points per outing on 58.5 percent true shooting. He has done a nice job of getting downhill in early offense, and has at times gotten to the rim on coast-to-coast plays after defensive rebounds, where he’s been able to convert his share of looks.
Granted, part of the reasoning for Okoro being more assertive in early offense has been Cleveland’s early-season injuries, and the group being without Garland, but the early offense from Okoro can continue.
The volume is not going to be a bunch of the time when Garland is back; even with that expectation, Okoro playing with aggression and force, and also displaying some touch finishing in the paint, are good signs of further growth. And the Cavaliers wanting to push the tempo more this season should bode well for Okoro, who has shown incremenental improvement as a driver. He’s looked sharp as a cutter in secondary transition scenarios and in early offensive sequences in the halfcourt, too.
Okoro is going to be known for his defense first, and that’s always going to apply with his kind of role, as normally a key bench piece, and as needed, starter when the Cavaliers are dealing with injuries, such as currently.
But, while he still has a ways to go to round out his game more, and didn’t get extended prior to this season, and is set for restricted free agency next offseason, Okoro has been one of the positives in this rough start for Cleveland. He’s made an early impact.
Okoro’s defense and toughness are never things that should be discounted, either, and his teammates have always loved that from him. For example, he returned to the game in Cleveland’s close loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder after taking an accidental shot to his face, and then was inadverdently stepped on soon after in a corresponding sequence. Nobody has ever questioned Okoro’s intangibles, and his hustle plays have been a plus, too; he’s had 6.3 rebounds per game early on.
All things considered, it’s still not simple to forecast whether he can be a true long-term piece for the Cavs, and hypothetically, he could be a trade deadline candidate witha very moveable $8.9 million deal for this season. And he’s again due for restricted free agency next summer.
However, if he can be more consistent, and can still find ways to contribute on offense when Cleveland is healthier, with his defensive skill set, maybe he can be a viable player to keep around. He’s still just 22 and is a plus athlete.
One will have to see come the playoffs, though, especially after his ineffectiveness then last year on offense.