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The Young Cavaliers: Isaac Okoro

Isaac Okoro Cleveland Cavaliers
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The season is winding down, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are in a good spot. Record-wise, at least. They are in a bit of an injury crisis right now, but they’ve been keeping afloat. Part of that (and their overall success this season) has hinged on the growth of their young guns. The Cavaliers needed them to improve, and some of them answered the bell. Let’s take a look at a few of the key youth and how their seasons have gone, starting with Isaac Okoro.


Late Bloomer

Dec 16, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) hits a three point

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Isaac Okoro was drafted fifth overall in the 2020 draft, and while he hasn’t lived up to the expectations that come with such a high pick, Okoro has taken off this year. While he wasn’t ever unplayable, he wasn’t a key contributor either. Now, he’s grown into a player that any team would be glad to have, a near-quintessential 3-and-D player. The key has been Okoro’s growth into an actual scoring threat. Of particular note has been his three-point shooting.

Okoro’s percentage from three has increased every single year, from a lacking 29% his rookie season to an excellent 39% this year. His attempts are still rather low (just 3.2 per game, although it’s enough to be significant), and most of his shots are still wide-open corner tries off of drive-and-kicks. Still, he’s shooting well enough to punish teams that are slacking, and it’s opened up the opportunity to attack closeouts. That’s led to additional shots at the rim. While most of his shot locations are similar to his past years, he’s also starting to diversify. Just looking at his shot charts from this year and last, it’s immediately apparent Okoro has gotten more confident. The shooting expansion hasn’t led to a drop in efficiency either.  

Speaking of confidence, unlike previous years, Okoro is much more likely to stay aggressive, too. There were many games where Okoro would shut down after an early miss from deep. There were 35 games last year where Okoro did not make a three, nearly half. It’s all the way down to 15% this year, just 15 games out of 58 so far. Increased confidence, expanded shot selection, and just becoming a better shooter have all contributed to making Okoro an actual offense threat this year. 


Same As Always

Until this year, the one thing that Okoro could always do is defend. That hasn’t changed much. His advanced metrics (D-EPM and D-LEBRON) are consistently above-average. That doesn’t sound that impressive, but then there’s the fact that Isaac Okoro ranks at or near the top in matchup difficulty. He’s guarding the best players every night and holding them down at a respectable rate. Some of his best defense work includes holding Damian Lillard to 9/34 shooting, Jaylen Brown to 1/11, and Anthony Edwards to 2/10 across the season. Combined with his now respectable offense, and Okoro has become a legit two-way wing.


Future Cavalier

Okoro has made critical improvements to his game this year. During the last two years, the Cavaliers have picked up his option because it was relatively cheap. His growth this year has made him worth extending the long term. Every team can use as many 3-and-D players as they can get, and Okoro has blossomed into that. He’s been a key contributor to the Cavaliers’ surprising run to third in the East. With all their injuries, his steady presence and actual offensive contributions have helped them keep afloat. Okoro has shown steady growth year after year, and at just 23, it still has a lot of basketball to play. 

Patrick Yen is a contributor on Back Sports Page.  He has written for NBC, SB Nation and a few more websites in his four-year sports journalism career. He has been the Back Sports Page beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patrick, a graduate of Ohio State University, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but moved to Columbus, Ohio, early in his life and has lived there ever since. You can find more of Patrick on Twitter @pyen117.

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