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Ochai Agbaji, the New Cleveland Cavalier

The 2022 NBA Draft took place last night, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were big participants with a total of four picks, one first rounder and three second rounders. With the 14th overall pick, they took Ochiai Agbaji out of Kansas, a guy that fulfills a real need for the team. Let’s take a look.

What Does Ochai Agbaji Do?

Cleveland Cavaliers select Kansas sharpshooter Ochai Agbaji with No. 14 pick in 2022 NBA Draft -

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Put simply, he’s a three-and-D player. In today’s NBA, you can’t get enough of these guys, and the Cavaliers in particular had a dearth of such players. They had no players shoot over 40% from three last year, and had just one wing or guard post over a one D-LEBRON or DBPM (Isaac Okoro), and he was their only guard/wing to have a positive D-RAPTOR, posting a paltry 0.3. In other words, they really didn’t have much in the way of hyper efficient shooting, and they didn’t really have much in the way of lockdown wing defenders, despite having two of the best defensive bigs in the league.


Offensive Skill Set

Enter Agbaji, who’s quite good at both of those things. He shot 40.7% from three in his senior season at Kansas, on 6.5 attempts per game which is fantastic. While that the highest mark of his career by far, he did show improvement every single year in college, which is a great sign, and overall shot 37.3% which isn’t bad. A bit more concerning is his free throw percentage, which many see as a better indicator of sharpshooting success in the NBA. Again, he had a career high 74.3 percent on 3.9 attempts per game his senior year which isn’t bad, but that was his only season above 70%. Importantly, Agbaji showed effectiveness on catch-and-shoot plays, and his ability to run off screens and fire quickly was something Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman mentioned multiple times in the post-first round press conference. Shooting isn’t all he has on offense though, as his athleticism and length allow him to finish efficiently around the rim, and he will be an immediate weapon in transition and as a backdoor cut threat.


Defensive Skill Set

Evaluating defense can be a mixed bag at the college level. Some guys like Matisse Thybulle are very clearly effective defenders and carry that to the next level. Other guys like Donovan Mitchell, who was billed as a defensive stopper coming out of Louisville, don’t quite translate. So more than anything, you are looking for physical traits, and Agbaji has them in spades. He’s got great size for the two spot (6’6”/215 with a 6’10” wingspan) which will also allow him to get minutes at the three if necessary. As Altman also said, it’s not terribly common for guys who are as effective from deep to also be very athletic, which Ogbaji definitely is. He’s quick on his feet and he can jump out the gym, measuring a 39” vertical which was tied for fourth at the 2022 NBA Draft Combine. He’s also got the wiry type of strength that means he won’t get pushed around easily even if he’s giving up some size. Just as importantly, Agbaji has the mentality to give it his all at the defensive end. He’s a guy that has been kind of overlooked for many parts of his career, and he knows that defense and threes will be how he makes his money in the league. Effort will not be in question for him, and that hardworking, championship mentality is another thing that drew Altman to him. 


What Can’t He Do?

As good as all that sounds, a sweet shooting, defensive stopping athletic monster, there are limitations to his game. Agbaji is on the older side, having spent four years in college which is not common these days. While not a guarantee (and considering his history of improvement there’s no telling what his ceiling is), generally older players have less room to grow. His polish is major reason the Cavs took him, as they wanted a player that could contribute right away, but that does come with a trade off. 

Ogbaji also isn’t much of a playmaker. He struggled to create offense off the bounce, scoring just .77 points per possession of dribble jump shots compared to a stellar 1.27 off catch-and-shoot. Ogbaji doesn’t have a bag of dribble moves, and finesse isn’t a real calling card, nor is his playmaking for others considering he averaged 1.6 assists to 2.1 turnovers in his breakout senior year. Taking some playmaking weight off of Darius Garland and allowing him to get some rest would have been welcome, but the Cavs chose to address their other big need, which was shooting and wing defense. 


The Rest of the Draft

Khalifa Diop


With their other three picks, all in the second round, the Cavaliers took two high upside guys and a safe, familiar face. With the 39th overall pick, they took Khalifa Diop, a 20 year-old who last played for Spanish club Gran Canaria. The Cavaliers, already one of the biggest teams last year, got even bigger, as Diop measures a whopping 7’1” in shoes.  He doesn’t have much in the way of senior experience, but representing Senegal at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup he was great, averaging 13.1 points, seven boards, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks in just 25.5 minutes per game. Diop’s athletic potential on defense and as a finisher on offense are tantalizing, and one could see him protecting the rim and erasing shots in a few years. The Cavaliers reportedly see him as a draft-and-stash big, but if he can realize his potential, then there might not be much of a defensive drop off when Mobley and Allen have to come out when and if he comes over. 


Isaiah Mobley

With the 49th pick they picked Evan Mobley’s elder brother, Isaiah. Playing for USC, the 6’10” Mobley averaged 14.2 points and 8.3 boards per game, along with a surprising 3.3 assists. Mobley also showed some range, hitting 35.2% of his 3.8 three-point attempts per game. Mobley made first-team All-PAC 12 last year, Mobley might not have the athletic ceiling that Mobley has but he can absolutely contribute. The size is not a problem, and his mental game is quite advanced. He knows where to be and what to do on offense, and his feel for the game can be seen in his AST:TO ratio of 3.3:1.9 which is great for a college big man. Add that knowledge to a developing three ball, and Isaiah can find a place on offense in the NBA. The issue might come (ironically, given his brother) on the defensive end, where he didn’t manage to make much impact on the box score (less than a block and steal per game) or on the eye-test, where he seems too slow to rotate and protect the rim. 


Luke Travers

Finally, with the 56th pick in the draft, the Cavaliers selected forward Luke Travers out of Australia. Travers (6’7”/207) has been playing professionally for three years now, and in his latest season averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 22 minutes. He’s a versatile player, playing point guard, shooting guard and small forward in his time with Perth, but it’s clear he still needs some time to develop and likely figures as an oversea stash like Diop. The size is nice, and clearly he’s got some ability to put the ball on the floor and create, given where he’s played, but he needs to fill out both his body and game before he’s ready for the NBA. 


Ready to Play

NCAA North Carolina Kansas Basketball

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Overall, the biggest factor coming out of the draft is obviously Ogbaji. The Cavaliers were a surprise success coming into the season, at one point occupying second place in the Eastern Conference. Injuries unfortunately ravaged the team hard, and they ended up falling into an unlucky play-in matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets. POBO Koby Altman believes this team is ready to compete, and therefore took one of the highest floor players in the draft in Ochiai Agbaji. He has a clear role on this team: move around on offense and shoot threes off the catch, and then lock down the opposing wings. He might be ready to start right away, which does leave some questions about the other two guards on the team already in Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro. Sexton has been in trade talks, but if he’s willing to accept the role could really excel as a spark plug sixth man, and while Okoro hasn’t shown the offensive growth they had hoped, he can be a great energy defender off the bench. The pick was a good one, solving a major need for the Cavs and giving them a guy ready to contribute. While there were higher upside guys and guys that can solve their playmaking issues outside of Garland, Agbaji is the modern NBA player that every team needs.

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