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Isaac Okoro Season Review: Why his offensive issues extend beyond shooting

Okoro took strides as a shooter, but still has holes in his game on both ends.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Isaac Okoro rebounded after a tough start to the year to finish the campaign averaging 6.4 points on .494/.363/.757 shooting splits with 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. He started 46 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers and was a good fit during the regular season with the core four of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen as that lineup outscored opponents by 7.8 points while posting an impressive 122 offensive rating.

The conversation around Okoro has largely centered around his three-point shooting. That was the biggest area of growth this season. He finished with a career best three-point shooting percentage while canning 44.1% of the 2.6 threes a game he took in his last 39 contests.

The increased three-point shooting was also coupled with improvements finishing at the rim. Okoro converted an impressive 65.7% of his shots at the rim while drawing shooting fouls on 14.2% of shot attempts (88th percentile). This all led to an outstanding 57.7 effective field goal percentage.

While the shooting percentages are impressive and a noticeable increase from his first two seasons, how those numbers were achieved was a bit unconventional. Okoro posted a career low 11.2 usage percentage which is in the 8th percentile among wings. This is largely due to being confined to the corners on offense. Eighty-five percent of Okoro’s shot attempts came from corner threes or at the rim. While those are the two most efficient places to score on the court, the lack of growth in operating outside of those two areas is concerning.

Any criticism of Okoro shouldn’t be leveled at his skill aside from a lack of handle which is a major concern. He’s proven to be an incredible athlete who does have offensive skills. The improvement of his jump shot is also a testament to how hard of a worker he is and shows a willingness to improve in an area that has been a longtime concern. The place that hasn’t improved is feel for the game which isn’t something that can be improved upon as noticeably or easily.

One of the things that became evident in the Cavs’ embarrassing first round exit was their lack of complete basketball players. Okoro played well in the minutes he was given, but his lack of ability to do much offensively besides take corner threes was why J.B. Bickerstaff opted in starting Caris LeVert over him and giving Cedi Osman heavy minutes even though Okoro was by far the best option for containing Jalen Brunson.

Feel for the game isn’t something that is brought up nearly enough. There isn’t a clean stat that captures it or a short highlight clip that can definitively demonstrate whether someone does or doesn’t have that. But feel is often what determines if a player becomes a journeyman or is out of league before their athletic prime is completely up.

Okoro hasn’t shown that feel for the game yet on either side of the court. The Cavs’ high usage guards and non-shooting bigs isn’t an ideal fit for him, but he doesn’t get the most out of his talents. His movements on the floor, including his on-ball screening, are more a function of following specific instructions instead of playing within the flow of the game. He doesn’t naturally know when to cut, when to pop out to the wing or any other off-ball movement.

This issue is present on the defensive end of the court as well although not as problematic. Okoro is one of the best perimeter man defenders in the league. He can shut down on and off-ball actions involving his assignment, but he isn’t disruptive off-ball in ways that other premier defenders are. He doesn’t naturally double the post when appropriate. He doesn’t jump passing lanes. Simply put, he doesn’t do the things that differentiate a very good defender from an elite, All-Defense level defender.

Okoro has shown that he has the skillset to be a good player in this league, but not knowing how to best use those talents is keeping him from being the best version of himself.

The fit and structure doesn’t do him any favors. A deliberate offense with ball dominant guards, lumbering bigs and a slow pace aren’t great for someone who thrives in the open court. It also doesn’t help that the coaching staff has carved out specific roles for Okoro on both ends of the floor. While that may optimize his use in the regular season, it doesn’t do him any favors for his development.

Bickerstaff acknowledged this issue heading into this past season. He admitted that Okoro was put into a box offensively and given predefined limits. That was something he talked about fixing but it never came to fruition.

The Cavs are backed into a corner with trying to improve this supporting cast due to their lack of assets. They’re relying heavily on internal growth. Okoro is one of those players who could solve many issues by becoming the best version of himself.

Okoro has the athleticism and talent to be exactly what this team needs. He showed that this past season. But that won’t translate to the court like it should if his feel for the game doesn’t improve dramatically. Unfortunately, that isn’t as straightforward to improve upon as taking thousands of open threes in an empty gym.