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After watching Isaac Okoro’s film, I was surprised by his defensive capabilities. He has the size, speed, and athleticism to be a top perimeter defender in the NBA. Also, I love his intangibles. He has the hustle, grit, and competitive fire that will come to shine in crucial game moments. However, I worry about his shooting ability. In college, he struggled with his form and consistency. No matter how good he is on defense, his struggles on offense will limit his playing time. It’s tough to make a true read on Okoro given the plethora of similar defensive forwards in previous drafts. Some like Jimmy Butler grew into capable shooters while others like Josh Jackson have fallen out of the league. I am leaning towards Okoro’s work ethic making him an above-average shooter and quality NBA starter.
Isaac Okoro’s stats aren’t eye-opening. He only averaged 12.8 points per game, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assist per game. His shooting splits were an average .512%, .286%, and .674% on field goal, three-point, and free-throw percentages. He doesn’t get a lot of blocks or steals. So what makes him special? In my eyes, some of Okoro’s stats were deceiving. For example, he wasn’t schemed to be the predominate scorer for the Auburn Tigers. In a larger role, he’s capable of scoring 15+ points per game. On defense, he doesn’t take a lot of risks. He sticks to his defender like glue, rarely jumping out of position for a steal or block. However, I am concerned about his shooting splits. He needs a lot of work to correct his shooting mechanics which could hinder his offensive viability early in his career.
Isaac is an NBA ready perimeter defender. As a focal point of the Auburn Tiger’s defense, Isaac always guarded the opposing team’s best player. And boy did he shine. He plays with a competitive edge on the defensive end, using his IQ to remain locked in on his assignments. When watching Okoro’s film, you will notice that he rarely falls out of position or take bad angles on defenders. Moreover, he plays great help defense. Okoro uses his bulky stance to play through screens and footwork to stay in front of his switched player. He’s always ahead of on rotations, often correcting his teammate’s struggles. Additionally, Isaac thrives against bigger forwards in part due to his frame. Equally important, Okoro has the footwork to maintain his leverage against shifty post players. Overall, coaches will love his steady defensive play.
Isaac Okoro's defense is really fun to watch: pic.twitter.com/Vq7N6J0MBN
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) December 21, 2019
Made a quick video of Isaac Okoro's defense vs Lipscomb. As he has shown all year, he is a very high level defender both on and off ball:
– strength in post w/great center of gravity
– recovery speed
– rotations off ball
– quick feet / hands in isolation pic.twitter.com/GEJTxv9qXV
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) December 31, 2019
While many of these perimeter defenders struggle mightily on the offensive side of the ball, Okoro shows promise. He’s a willing and adept passer often finding the cutting man in stride or the rolling big man at the most opportune time. He reads a defensive scheme which shows through his tendency to avoid bad positions and fouls from being late to his spot. As mentioned before, he doesn’t get many blocks or steals – similar to Klay Thompson – because he doesn’t take unnecessary risks. Again, coaches will love Okoro because they can count on him to play within his role.
Given his refined defensive play, I was surprised at his proficiency on offense. He’s aggressive to the basket, attacking it hard and often. Yet, he’s very smooth when finishing around the rim, a testament to his body control and fluidity with the basketball. Okoro’s very comfortable with both hands and uses this make his Euorsteps, spin moves, and crossovers even more devastating. His ability to slash to the basket, and explosiveness when doing so, is well developed amongst the other prospects. Envision Issac running in transition, catching his defender with a Eurostep, and then dunking the ball with authority.
Okoro has a high motor. He won’t take plays off, provides energy on the boards, and will outhustle defenders down the court. He’ll fall in good graces with his coaches for his competitive spirit and work ethic, which I’ve heard is top of the class. Just look at this effort play below.
Isaac Okoro chase down block. Goodness. pic.twitter.com/FPeek1M5wa
— Brandon Simberg (@BrandonSimberg) June 5, 2020
While a developed passer, rebounder, dunker, and perimeter defender, Okoro struggles with his shot. In all honesty, I think he’s one of the worst shooters in the lottery, which really hurts his draft stock. In the modern NBA, you have to be able to shoot the ball to get consistent playing time. Slashers aren’t as important; teams have shown that they prefer the “three and d” type of player. Because of this, guys like Stanley Johnson, former top-ten draft pick, struggle to get consistent playing time. Okoro has it on the defensive end, but his poor shooting mechanics give me little optimism that he can become an above-average shooter.
The cause of his inconsistencies is his shot mechanics. His elbows flare out on most of his shots, altering his accuracy. Also, Okoro’s shots look very stiff. His ball doesn’t rotate in the air because he lacks the fluidity in his wrist motion. Moreover, he tends to fade back when attempting three’s, forcing him to exert more energy on his shot. His free throw percentage doesn’t provide me any confidence as well. Okoro needs to work with a proven shooting coach to help his shot. He has the work ethic, so I’m curious to see how he can develop. If he becomes a decent three-point shooter, the NBA needs to watch out.
Continuing with his shooting, Okoro struggles at the line. He has this weird two-step motion where he pauses mid-free throw and changes his posture. This inconsistent motion was reflected in his accuracy at the line. Fixing this simple motion should bring his free-throw percentage up a few points at the minimum.
Furthermore, he doesn’t have the confidence on isolation plays. Okoro will often pass up open lanes to the basket against defenders he fears will cut him off. This is partly due to his lack of shot-creating ability or polished ball-handling skills to make his guy miss. This is an easy fix if he develops secondary moves outside the Eurostep of spin move he so often relies upon. A heavy focus on scrimmages should help his comfort level on the perimeter.
Best Team Fit
San Antonio Spurs
I like his fit with the San Antonio Spurs. Popovich loves this kind of elite perimeter player that won’t take unnecessary risks on defense. Okoro hustles and plays with intensity, another trait Popovich commands out of his players. He shows enough promise on the offensive side of the ball and perfectly complements Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray’s defensive abilities. The question with this fit comes scoring. While all having defensive potential, neither of the three are elite shooters which would hurt their spacing and offensive unit’s ability to thrive in the modern NBA.
I love Okoro to the Bulls. Current small forward Otto Porter Jr. is not the long-term answer. He’s often injured and doesn’t provide the defense Chicago needs given Coby White, Zach Lavine, and Lauri Markkanen’s struggles. Okoro will immediately make this team a better defensive unit with his ability to guard and opposing team’s best perimeter defender. He also won’t have the burden of running the offense or be counted on to provide shooting. With Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen commanding the offensive attention, Okoro will have one-on-one opportunities to beat his opponents, an area he occasionally found success. Okoro fits seamlessly into the Bull’s future plans.
Okoro reminds me of Jimmy Butler. Both have similar frames and were defensive anchors for their college teams. Butler entered the league with questions about his shot but praise over his work ethic, competitive nature, and perimeter defense. Okoro has similar strengths and weaknesses as Butler coming out of college. What’s interesting is that Butler has greatly improved his shot since entering the NBA. He’s become at least a viable 3PT shooter, although that has diminished this past season with the Heat. But, we never questioned Jimmy’s ability to play through contact and be a menace on defense. If Okoro can get his three-point percentage to about 32%, he can carve out a consistent starter role in the NBA. If not, he will struggle to get consistent playing time despite his high draft selection – think of Jarrett Culver, Stanley Johnson, Josh Jackson etc.
Okoro is one of the more difficult prospects to assess. While he’s the most polished perimeter defender in the draft, his shooting struggles are concerning. He has few redeeming qualities with his shot, which means he has a long way to go. I don’t expect him to emerge as a quality shooter for at least two to three seasons. By this time, teams could start to give up on him. If I’m an NBA GM, I would be very hesitant to select Okoro in the top 5. We have a huge sample size of elite perimeter defenders but inconsistent shooters that never found their stroke in the NBA. I fear Okoro could be the next in line. However, his work ethic could catapult him to a Jimmy Butler type of player. A lot of uncertainty exists with Okoro, leading me to think his true draft range is between 9-11.