CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Cavaliers entered this grueling project with several goals.
They wanted to add someone who blends into the renewed culture. Attitude matters. The character does it too. Competitive spirit is a prerequisite, one of the core values of head coach JB Bickerstaff. It is the same with work ethic, especially given the strong emphasis on player development that will guide this recovery. As general manager Kobe Altman is in charge, he points to these traits as controlling. To choose the top 1
Cavs also recognizes the importance of adding a two-way wing. But the front office, led by Altman, would not allow the position to control that choice. The main goal: to find the best player.
In the endless debate over talent versus suitability, the Cavs didn’t have to choose sides.
“Isaac (Okoro) was both,” Altman said Wednesday night in a conversation with Zoom with reporters while the project was still ongoing. “I think we were extremely lucky to get the right form in terms of player and the best talent on the board. This is difficult to do. “
Each of the front office members had their favorites from the crowded second-tier potential under Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball, who went 1-2-3 in Wednesday’s draft.
The order of this second cluster has been discussed for months. He had the support of Obi Topin from Dayton, believing that his offensive competence would overshadow the obvious shortcomings in the defense. There were supporters of Deni Avdia, especially after he impressed during his pre-workout training. Some favored the great man from USC Onyeka Okongwu, who went to Atlanta with a choice later, because of his protective flexibility and rim protection – both may be needed in the future, depending on what happens to Andre Drummond and Tristan Thompson. Tyris Halliburton looked around, with at least one team leader mentioning the success of Oklahoma City with three guards (Chris Paul, Dennis Schroeder and Shay Gilgius-Alexander).
That’s why the Cavs were willing to trade bids to see if they could drop out of a few places, take an asset or two, and catch a player they liked again. Altman feels the accumulated energy from opposing GMs, who are eager to make deals after the moratorium was lifted earlier in the week.
Kavite had opportunities. According to Altman, “many” teams are trying to move into the top 10. Some contenders are even trying to jump to fifth place. The Cavs held talks with the Knicks, Pistons, Celtics and several other unnamed teams, looking for a deal that returned enough value to be worth the risk of losing Okoro. But as they explored all possibilities, including while on the clock, their decision became clearer. Shortly after 8:30 p.m., they stopped listening, dialed the league office, and made their choice.
The cavaliers are ready. The Cavs will choose Isaac Okoro.
Joy filled the courts of the Cleveland clinic. Applause followed. First bumps. Hi-five. Hugs. Then everyone watched the TV message before celebrating a little more.
“The more we thought about it, the more we got excited about Isaac,” Altman said.
Some may view the talent talk differently from the Cavs. This is natural. After all, both Toppin and Avdija were taller on most boards. But it’s hard to be too vocal in either case. It has never been particularly divisive to these boys. It took time to reach a consensus.
In Okoro, a sturdy 6-foot, 225-pound swinger, the skill level is obvious.
He averaged 12.9 points with 51.4% shooting and 28.6% of 3 points to reach 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his lone season at Auburn. He was named the second All-SEC team, freshman team and defense team, becoming only the sixth player in the history of the conference to capture all these specific awards in one season, joining Anthony Davis (2011-12), Michael Kid-Gilchrist (2011-12), Nerlens Noel (2012-13), Jordan Mickey (2013-14) and Robert Williams (2016-17).
“He’s an extremely exciting player,” Altman told Okoro. “He is a dynamic, monstrous type of physics in the wing position and he is ready. He is a ready body that will compete. He checked a lot of boxes for us. “
Two of these boxes: position and need. Without having to immerse yourself in a different talent pool.
The Cavs are the worst defensive team in the league. It’s not about scheme, coaching or inexperience. They just don’t have enough quality individual defenders. Okoro changes that. Just ask him.
“I feel like the best defender in this class,” Okoro said. “I feel I can handle this challenge to keep the best player on the other team.”
The figures support this statement. Okoro ranks at the 90th percentile in points allowed for one-on-one possession. The Cavs needed someone just like him, especially with a small back that was burned many times last season and several other defensive liabilities (Cedi Osman and Kevin Love) that take big minutes.
“There are some great wings in the East,” Altman said. “We had to start dealing with the defensive side of the ball and his mentality is to take on the best player of the other team, and on many of those nights it’s a wing.
“To celebrate him as the next best defender in our league is a great expectation for a 19-year-old. But he wants to do it. That’s the way of thinking, isn’t it? This is a winning mentality. This is endurance. And then he has the body to keep 1-4. It will immediately affect this side of the ball. “
But Altman wanted to make it clear: Focusing only on Okoro’s defense misses the mark.
“It would be difficult for us to prepare for defense alone,” Altman said. “His insulting play is underestimated. I think you’ll see as you watch him more and more, he does a lot of small things – offensive ricochets, ritual outs, dunks and kicks, pitches, second throws and throws. There is much more to his game besides defense. I think he has a lot of insulting twists. He has a really good basketball IQ, he can really pass, he knows how to cut and score in different ways. He can post a little. He will handle our guards perfectly. “
Given how many dominant balls and high-profile players are already scattered on this list, the Cavs needed someone who could influence the games in other ways. This is Okoro.
Nearly two-thirds of his offensive production came in spot and transition opportunities. According to Synergy Sports, Okoro ranks at the 80th percentile in transition points, with many of his best moments coming on the open floor – end-to-end sprinting, sail passing, defender trucks and exploding to the brink. thunder immersions or powerful distributions, albeit contact. He ranked as one of the best college finalists in basketball.
These areas should at least make him useful in crime as long as he continues to work on his ifie jumper.
“The shot was not broken,” Altman said. “There are some concerns there, but I know it will work. He will live in the gym. He will be fine. I will see him gradually recover. “
The Cavs are ready to make that bet. Just as they did with Colin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr. and Osman, they all significantly improved their external touch in Cleveland’s respected player development system.
Three years ago, Nance made two 3-points. Total. Last season, he set a career record with 56 threes, shooting a respectable 35.2% from long distance. He plans to build on these figures in 2020-21.
Sexton’s preliminary draft study report described him as a bad scorer after hitting just 33.6 percent beyond the rainbow in Alabama. Two years into his NBA career, Sexton is one of Cleveland’s most reliable scorers.
There is ample evidence pointing to the shooting as a corrective defect. Kauhi Leonard. Jimmy Butler. Marcus Smart. Jaylan Brown. Lonzo ball. Pascal Siakam. Andre Iguodala. The list goes on and on.
During the preliminary project, Okoro was compared to many of them. His college numbers were almost identical to Brown’s. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Okoro reminded him of Iguodala. ESPN NBA Draft analyst Fran Fraschilla saw nuances of Butler. A scout who spent years watching Okoro said the young man had intangible assets.
Of course, not everyone is the same. There is never a guarantee that the numbers will improve. What does the shape look like? What adjustments need to be made? Will the player work? These are the important questions. He is about 19 years old. He deserves a chance to grow before he gets a premature label. He finished the year strong in Auburn, a promising sign. He made improvements in form, work and released this off-season, which the Cavs saw during a recent training session – always an integral part of their pre-training process.
It can take several years. But why would the caves now doubt him? They spent hours watching in person and spoiling the movie. They talked to people from his high school, AAU, Team USA and Auburn. They saw the progression. They have seen the impact.
He is almost a winner. And, unlike shooting, this quality is innate.
“He’s a great teammate,” Altman said. “These 50-50 plays, those loose balls, these noises, we call them floor burns. This makes everyone ignite. Not only a team, but also a base of fans, the city. I think it will burn a lot of people, how intensely he plays in each possession. First is the team. He is proud of that. He is modest. But he is not lying when he says he is a winning player. “
The Cavs had many other options at number 5. A solid argument could be made for each of them. But they needed a wing. They need an infusion of talent. And they desperately needed to improve their defenses.
Put it together and you will get Okoro – a talented, defensive wing.
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