Everything You Need To Know About Isaac Okoro

Isaac Okoro is known as an elite defender, but his interior scoring and playmaking raise his ceiling.

Finding a wing who is a high-level, multi-positional defender is rare. Having the opportunity to draft such a player who is 19 years old with an NBA ready body is even more unique. Isaac Okoro is the best defender in this class and is a lottery lock in the 2020 NBA Draft.

So many people throw the overused label of a 3-and-D wing on Okoro, but it doesn’t fit his playstyle at all. The only applicable part of the 3-and-D classification is the D, which needs to be capitalized and bolded because his defense is inspiring.

From day one, Okoro will be a menace for opponents. He is tenacious, intelligent, and aggressive on the defensive end. His strength allows him to defend in the post, and his excellent footwork suffocates opponents on the wing.

The below clip is a prime example of Okoro’s defensive brilliance. The clip starts with Alabama on a three vs. one fast break with Okoro well behind the ball. With his determination and speed, Okoro executes an unlikely chase-down block. After his momentum carries him into the first row, Okoro then returns to the court and cuts off the baseline drive. The ball gets rotated after Okoro cuts off the second baseline drive. Most players would remain in the paint and look to box out on the shot attempt. Okoro’s work rate doesn’t allow this. Instead, Okoro sprints from the opposite side of the paint and heavily contests the jumper.

This level of effort from a college player on defense in a regular-season game is rare. Okoro’s defensive awareness and adaptability here are also incredibly impressive. He disrupts numerous plays that would typically result in a score.

This high level of defensive awareness is continuously on display, especially when Okoro is defending away from the ball. Here, Alabama is running a series of handoffs to create a lane to the hoop. Okoro positions himself perfectly to know where his man is while also watching the on-ball action. As Alabama runs the pick-and-roll, Okoro recognizes the screener slips the screen. As the help defender, Okoro goes to bump the roll while still reading the ball handler’s eyes. Since the ball-handler leaves his feet, he must make a quick decision. The second the ball handler’s eyes move back to Okoro’s man, Okoro reacts promptly to intercept the pass.

Besides being an off-ball menace on the wing, Okoro has also shown some rim protection ability. The below clip shows Okoro’s impressive awareness and timing again. Okoro’s teammate hedges the pick too aggressively, which creates a lane for the ball-handler. Since the ball handler’s initial defender is stuck on the screen/post-up, the ball-handler now has an open path to the rim. Seeing this, Okoro deftly rotates from his weakside position to contest at the rim. Okoro does an exceptional job of staying vertical and blocks the shot.

The ability to roam and recover while playing off-ball defense is incredibly valuable to team defense. Some of the best defenders in the league, like Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green are exceptional at this. It disrupts the offensive flow and takes away what should be easy scoring opportunities.

I fully expect Okoro to act as that defensive center fielder who controls the floor and dictates how the team defense operates. His off-ball defense will help this, but his point of attack defense is what sets him apart from most.

In the below clip, Okoro shows off his on-ball perimeter defense along with his ability to switch onto quicker point guards. As the screen gets set, Auburn is more than happy to switch. The ball-handler proceeds to perform a few dribble moves that accomplish virtually nothing. As he drives, Okoro does an excellent job of sliding his feet, keeping his balance, and staying in a perfect defensive position. Once he realizes his misfortune, the ball-handler tries to catch Okoro off-guard with a runner, but Okoro reads it quickly and effortlessly turns the shot away.

Again, Okoro gets matched up on the opposing point guard, who may be the quickest player in the draft. It initially appears that Okoro gets beaten, but he does a great job of staying on the ball handler’s hip to cut off the drive. As the ball-handler reaches the lane, he promptly slams on the breaks. This change of speed would send most defenders out of bounds. Okoro, however, stays right with his man and heavily contests the off-balance floater.

The defensive prowess of Okoro is undeniable, and it will be immediately transferable. His offensive game, however, is what has conjured most of the concerns surrounding his future projection. The most glaring flaw in Okoro’s game is his lack of a jump shot. This season Okoro shot just 28% from three and 67% from the line.

When Okoro was able to dribble into his shot, he saw a glimmer of success as he scored 0.818 points per possession (PPP), which ranked in the 62nd percentile, per Synergy. Unfortunately, he only had 11 attempts, so the sample size is not great. What is more concerning is Okoro’s struggles shooting off the catch. In these situations, Okoro scored just 0.733 PPP (19th percentile).

The mechanics of Okoro’s shot have a long way to go. He is very stiff, dips the ball too low as he starts his motion, and has inconsistent timing on his release. Okoro doesn’t need to develop into a lights-out shooter, but if he can’t improve to at least 30-35%, teams will be able to sag off of him even more than they already do.

A typical counter to defenses sagging is the ability to drive. Okoro saw mixed results in this area of his game as he scored 0.875 PPP (56th percentile) in drives out of isolation and 0.643 PPP (38th percentile) on runners. In the below clip, we see Okoro struggle to create any space on his drive and resort to throwing up a heavily contested floater.

Okoro showed very little creativity or touch in that video, which was a common theme early in the season. As the season progressed, though, Okoro’s ability to attack and finish at the rim drastically improved. He showed variety with his attacks by utilizing better timed Euro steps and spin moves. He is tough to stop when he can get up to speed and is given a straight line to the rim.

A primary area of scoring that this was relevant was his transition game. Okoro is an excellent rebounder, so the fact that he also scored 1.194 PPP (80th percentile) is very encouraging for his grab-and-go development.

In the below clip, we see Okoro use that similar speed we saw in the previous chase-down block. It looks like a simple move, but Okoro’s quick in-and-out dribble is impressive for someone his size moving at that speed. This move freezes the defender and creates a path for an emphatic dunk.

This combination of speed and strength is incredibly useful in the half-court offense as well. Here, Okoro’s defender shades too far one direction, giving Okoro a runway to the rim. Noticing that there is no defender in the lane, Okoro takes off at full speed. The weak side defender eventually rotates, but he is too late and ends up the victim of a monstrous dunk.

The speed and power are what immediately catches your attention, but opportunities that wide open are less common in the NBA. For Okoro to create against NBA defenders, there needs to be more wiggle and creativity. As the season progressed, Okoro’s drives became much more sinister.

In the below clip, Okoro abuses his defender. Okoro sets up his defender with a left-handed drive. Once Okoro gets his defender’s momentum going away from the lane, he drives his shoulder into the defender’s chest and quickly spins back towards the lane. This move puts his defender off balance and is quick enough that the weakside defenders don’t have time to recognize the move and rotate.

Moves like this are vital for Okoro’s development as a scorer. I’m not holding my breath on his outside shooting, but if he can continue to be effective with moves like this, his offensive impact will only grow.

Okoro made his most significant scoring impact this season when he was around the rim. His driving significantly improved as the season progressed, he ranked in the 79th percentile on offensive rebounds with 1.273 PPP, and he ranked in the 92nd percentile when he cut with 1.476 PPP.

With defenses likely giving Okoro less attention when he’s on the perimeter, his well-timed cuts can punish defenses as we can see below. Okoro starts on the weakside wing as his teammate initiates his drive. His teammate gets in the lane with relative ease but doesn’t have a shot due to the size mismatch. Okoro recognizes that his defender has flat out turned his back on him and is ball watching. Instead of staying on the wing where he isn’t a threat, Okoro quickly flashes to the lane for the easy layup.

The improved scoring at the rim as the season progressed was encouraging for Okoro’s future development. He knows he isn’t a good shooter, but by finding ways to get to the rim, he still makes himself a threat and someone defenses can’t forget.

The most surprising, encouraging, exciting part of Okoro’s game this season was his playmaking. Coming into the season, I viewed Okoro as a one-trick pony with a mindset only for defense. As the season progressed, I was pleasantly stunned as he showed off some incredible passing ability. Even though he didn’t act as a primary playmaker, Okoro showed that he’s one of the better playmaking wings in this draft. When you factor in his assists, Okoro averaged 1.231 PPP, which ranked in the 85th percentile.

A lot of strong wings have their head down and mindset on just getting to the rim when they drive. Okoro, however, sees the whole floor. His improved driving is excellent for his scoring potential, but it is even more critical for his playmaking potential. As he experiences success while driving, teams will start to collapse more on him, which will leave his teammates open.

In the below clip, we see Okoro make a pass that not many college point guards can make. Okoro has a similar drive to what we saw earlier. This time, though, the weakside defender rotates early, which causes the chain reaction of rotations, thus leaving the corner shooter open. Okoro makes a one-handed live dribble pass to the opposite corner to set up his teammate for a free three.

The majority of Okoro’s playmaking opportunities will come from drive-and-kick situations. If needed, though, Okoro has shown a knack for playmaking out of the pick-and-roll. While Okoro’s overall scoring out of the pick-and-roll was average (0.733 PPP, 51st percentile), his teammates scored 1.062 PPP (75th percentile) when he passed out of the pick-and-roll.

In the below clip, Okoro shows off his vision, timing, and touch. As he comes off the screen, he uses his eyes to freeze the weakside defender. His teammate sees the defender ball watching, so he quickly cuts back-door. Okoro delivers a perfect bounce pass to his teammate in stride for a layup and a foul.

Going forward, Isaac Okoro, at the very worst, will be an excellent defender. He has the tools, however, to develop into so much more. His game has flashes of Andre Iguodala and OG Anunoby. Even if his shot doesn’t improve much, he will still be an excellent defender, slasher, and playmaker.

In the 2020 NBA Draft, there is no reason for Isaac Okoro to drop out of the top ten. He has the basketball IQ to be a defensive cornerstone for a long time. His playmaking opens many offensive possibilities, and his ability to attack will keep defenses on their heels. There is more to basketball than just outside shooting, and Isaac Okoro is proof of that.

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