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MEET ISAAC OKORO: A JUMPER AWAY FROM BEING SPECIAL

@TheWillBaldwin

It seems every draft we get the one athletic guy who can’t shoot at all but if he finds the range has the chance to be special. In 2020, that guy is Isaac Okoro.

Okoro is a 6’6 wing coming out of Auburn who is a polarizing player amongst scouts. 

As the classic sweet athlete who can’t shoot, he’s going to inevitably have some people who just aren’t into him. For me though, boiling it down to if Okoro can shoot or not is far too symplistic.

This isn’t the case of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who is a scorer who can’t shoot, Okoro is already a well-rounded player. The moment he steps into the NBA, he’s going to be an elite perimeter defender. 

His instincts are outstanding at that end, he flows beautifully from his man to a switch and is always ready to hit the floor for a loose ball. It’s not surprising finding out he won in high school then was integral to the success of Auburn this past season, he’s a winning player. 

Okoro was just the 36th player in the country coming out of high school so the fact he’s even a one-and-done headed for a top ten selection is an achievement. I think for me, that’s what separates him from MKG or Trevon Duval or elite athletes that shooting failed them. He’s much more Victor Oladipo at Indiana or Donovan Mitchell at Louisville in that he’s scratched and clawed his way here. 

We see a lot of guys flame out high in the draft that were handed things all the way up and that just simply isn’t Okoro. 

Part of what I love about him is even if he never fully finds the jumper, he’s still a smart enough driver and good enough player in transition to be playable on that end and then defensively as I said, he’s elite. I just struggle to see him having a worse career than an Avery Bradley for example.

His wherewithal defensively combined with sheer determination on the floor scream to me a guy who will work to get to a point where he is at least respectable from three. 

The guy he most reminded me of is Marcus Smart. Although the Oladipo and Mitchell comparisons are fair to an extent, the improvements those guys have made as shot creators and shooters feels lofty for guy at the level Okoro is. 

It’s not to say he can’t per se, it’s just to project him to become an All-Star level creator when quite honestly he has no counters to his euro step and doesn’t have a great playmaking feel is a little unfair. There’s a significant amount of room for growth here but for him to get to that level I would think would require a Kawhi Leonard Spurs coaching situation and I just can’t project that in a pre-draft scouting report.

What I can say is his Smart tendencies are everywhere. At Oklahoma State, Smart was a more refined offensive player but he was older and even still struggled to shoot or create his own jump shot. Where he excelled was defensively and getting to the rim, allowing those skills to translate from day one in the league and giving his other areas time for improvement.

See, that’s what I love about Okoro. Much like Matisse Thybulle last year, his defence is so good, he’s going to get on the floor a bunch no matter what, giving him a ton of reps to improve the areas he needs to. This isn’t going to be a Mo Bamba situation where he’s glued to the bench, like Bamba’s teammate Jonathan Isaac, this Isaac will too get a chance to play significant minutes early. 

Little things like this can be the difference in allowing a player to grow. 

MKG’s defence took time and thus, eliminated chances for the reps guys like Smart and Isaac were able to get earlier. The reality is, development takes time but for that time to be prosperous, these players need opportunity. 

Without many using the G-League to its highest potential, developmental players like an Okoro need an NBA skill to get them on the floor early since many teams don’t take the time to develop. Say a team like Atlanta drafts Okoro at six, his defence will allow him to work with Trae Young instantly and likely start, then he will be given time to find the jumper.

Some guys never do but the ones who usually make it happen are the ones who are defenders as well and have that ability to get playing time and competitive mentality and love for the game. 

Okoro was one of my favourite guys to scout in the draft because to appreciate him it required a keen focus. Yeah, his euro step and ability to use his freakish athleticism and explosiveness in space is highlight-worthy and grabs attention.

He’s much more than that though. 

What will make him special in the league are the hidden steals where his hand comes out of nowhere or the switch he locks up seamlessly. Okoro’s a winning player regardless of his jump shot ever fully coming to fruition.

Let’s be honest, most of these lottery teams are there for a reason, they have no culture of winning. A guy like Okoro comes in and helps change that, which is why he’s worth a top ten swing even if you don’t believe in his offensive potential. 

Scouting Report:

Stats:

SeasonSchoolConfGGSMPFGFGAFG%2P2PA2P%3P3PA3P%FTFTAFT%ORBDRBTRBASTSTLBLKTOVPFPTS SOS
2019-20AuburnSEC282831.54.58.7.5143.86.2.6070.72.5.2863.24.8.6721.92.54.42.00.90.92.02.712.97.39

Projection:

  • Unlikely to ever be a top offensive player but certainly has the potential to be a perennial all-defensive team selection in the archetype of a guy like Marcus Smart

Player Comps

  • Marcus Smart- An incredible defender in every way who made his name on offence driving despite his poor jumper coming in but found a way to consistently improve.
  • Victor Oladipo- People forget that before he was an All-Star shot creator, Oladipo was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. His defence and athleticism certainly are similar to Okoro
  • Avery Bradley- A great defender with a fine offensive game that continues to make an impact well into his NBA career

Strengths

  • On-ball defence whether it be from the start of the possession or any type of switch
  • Also an elite team defender with a knack for the ball and active hands
  • Explosive athlete who in space gets to the rim with ease
  • Actually has quite the eurostep that is almost unguardable in transition with his athleticism
  • Sees the floor better than you’d think and with an improved handle shows signs of potential

Weaknesses

  • Shooting in every way, technique is inconsistent and regularly poor 
  • Gets tunnel vision on drives and is liable for charges or poor shot attemps as a result
  • Handle needs improvement to help him get to the rim easier
  • Thinks he’s a better shooter than he is right now, often takes weird pull-up threes as result
  • His wingspan is quietly shorter than you’d like but should be okay

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