2020 NBA Draft Scouting Report: 6’6″ 225 lbs, Age 19
If LaMelo Ball is the most impactful player in the draft on the offensive end, Isaac Okoro might be the most impactful team defender on the defensive end. While the youngest Ball brother has been been followed around by cameras for years, Okoro’s rise is a bit more unexpected. A four star recruit, Okoro was not invited to the McDonald’s All-American game as a high schooler and used this snub to work that much harder like his Nigerian parents. Okoro carries with him a quiet confidence that’s easy to see when he volunteers to take the challenge of guarding a team’s best player, both of which are huge reasons why he has seldom lost since entering high school and playing in college. The first thing you notice when you watch #23 from Auburn is his physique. It is safe to say he is an imposing figure who is hard to miss on the screen. There are few small forwards that are as intimidating as he is and there are times when Okoro will remind you of another #23 when he’s on his way to finishing a breakaway slam.
Not that I have your attention, I am not saying he is the next LeBron James. What am I saying, instead, is that he can still be an game-changing player – just in other ways. He won’t impress you with his passing, although if Okoro can attract enough defenders by being more aggressive on offense, he is certainly capable of getting the ball out to a shooter. What Okoro can do is being valued more than ever by NBA teams – and that is his ability to switch on defense and still lock down almost every position 1-5. There are not many players, in this draft, or in others, who react as well as Okoro does to the game. He is not just strong, but quick and navigates seamlessly through screens. Because of his lack of incredible wingspan, his defensive stats don’t seem to be all that special but his presence is undoubtedly felt defensively. Okoro is someone a coach can keep out there on the court and feel like he is not hurting the team on either end and would be the dream for someone like Tom Thibodeau who likes to keep his guys out there. Okoro certainly was that for Bruce Pearl who’s been effusive in his praise for the star freshman’s effort level, tenacity and ease in coaching.
- Okoro’s finishing at the rim and fearlessness in drawing contact and fouls.
- His strong handle and first-step, along with his overall decision-making.
- Guarding bigger players in the post and allowing ISO’s to beat themselves.
- Games where he has shown flashes offensively like Davidson and Alabama
- Can play in transition and the half-court, either on the ball or off the ball.
- Shooting. Inconsistent jumper that is particularly worrisome from the line.
- His shot appears to be more mechanical than fluid at this time, as he aims.
- Defensive rebounding, although his offensive rebounding shows his hustle.
- Reluctance to score, when he can be physical and easily drive to baskets.
- Teams may limit ceiling by making him a secondary option, wing defender.
Isaac Okoro is pretty much a blank slate as a basketball player. You can dream on him and develop him into a unique player to make him the first Isaac Okoro or you can put him in a box. He has many tools and is a talented, team-first player who has as wide a range of outcomes as any that depends on his role and how much he plays. There is almost certainly going to be developmental period for him scoring wise but he is ready-made on defense, with his energy. When I think of his intelligence and athleticism, I am reminded of Jaylen Brown: who took some time to come into his own and was called a bust in the process.
I believe Okoro has the long-view when it comes to his career and knows what will have to happen for him to reach a similar level at his maturity. There will almost certainly be a GM who bets on him being a plus, plus defender and sees a Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, but forgets the journey that both took to get to their own peaks. As a projected top ten pick, Okoro should have the leeway to fail and learn more than other prospects who were expected to succeed right away as late first round picks like Justin Anderson (someone bail him out of the G-League!)