Isaac Okoro has quietly been the most impactful rookie in the NBA. Let’s take a look at how he has helped change the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Isaac Okoro No. 5 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft with the expectation that he would stop them from ranking dead last in defense for the third season in a row. So far through the first few weeks of the season, Cleveland ranks first in Defensive Rating – a drastic improvement that not even the most optimistic fans saw coming.
This change can’t all be attributed to Okoro. After all, the rookie has only appeared in five games. And, players like Larry Nance Jr., Andre Drummond, JaVale McGee and Dante Exum all likely played a larger role in making the Cavs a better defensive team overall due to their bigger sample size.
However, Okoro’s impact can’t go unnoticed. He is without a doubt the most physical perimeter defender they have on the roster and his IQ for a rookie is unmatched. Okoro is a difference-maker on this end of the floor and it has made him one of the best rookies in his class.
Isaac Okoro’s rookie ranks
Okoro’s per-game averages don’t tell the full story. He’s posting just 7.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists on underwhelming shooting splits of .419/.286/.500. Yet, he ranks near the top in some key metrics that judge a rookie’s impact on their team. He posts the fourth and seventh-best Defensive Rating and Net Ratings respectively – despite ranking last in Usage Rate and Pace among rookies to play at least 150 minutes this season.
The Cavaliers don’t rely on Okoro to do too much. Still, his advanced ratings place him as a top-tier player in his class. This is because, despite his limited usage, Okoro ranks first in rookie deflections, charges drawn and 3-point shots contested per game – while also placing top-three in 2-pointers contested and overall shot contests.
He is constantly engaged on the defensive end. Okoro uses his strength and speed to plow through screens and harras opponents on and off the ball. His tenacity on defense was a core reason the Cavaliers stamped a late-game win over Memphis despite having multiple players out due to injury.
Okoro has a bright future in the NBA as an All-Defensive caliber player. At 6’6″ and 225 pounds, he is able to stand his ground in the post and maneuver on the perimeter to disrupt the flow of ball handlers. His decision-making as a rookie is astounding and he should only get better with time.
The only thing holding him back right now is his limited offensive game. But, this is more so a result of the Cleveland Cavaliers dealing with major setbacks such as losing Kevin Love, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dante Exum all at the same time.
This has put Okoro in a position where he has to create his own shot more often than he would like. Being hesitant is a trait of most 19-year-old NBA players, but it’s only made worse when you entered the league without much offensive development in the first place. Okoro went from being a guy who only looked to score in transition, on cuts to the hoop and in rare catch-and-shoot plays – to now being asked to put the ball on the floor and get a bucket.
It’s clear this has put Okoro in an awkward position. He often looks indecisive attacking the basket and avoids contact in spite of his superior physical build. This could be a result of him fearing the free throw line as a 50 percent shooter – or simply a bit of inexperience on his part.
Nonetheless, this trial by fire introduction to the NBA will benefit Okoro in the long run. He’s learning skills he otherwise wouldn’t have with Garland and Sexton dominating the ball. And, as the rest of the team returns to the lineup and he falls back into his more comfortable role as a tertiary scorer, Okoro’s efficiency should increase.
For now, Okoro is making noise as the league’s grittiest rookie defender. With time, he can blossom into a better scorer and solidify himself as the most impactful player of the 2020 NBA Draft class.