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Every member of J.B. Bickerstaff’s young squad will be amped up for Cleveland’s home opener on October 22. But maybe none more than sophomore Isaac Okoro.
The No. 5 overall pick from a season ago was part of a rookie class whose first season was unprecedented.
The 2020 Draft was held virtually in late October and workouts and interviews leading up to it were extremely limited. There was no red carpet appearance on Draft Night in Brooklyn, no Summer League session and a truncated Training Camp. And when his freshman campaign finally tipped off just before Christmas, the seats were empty.
So when the Wine & Gold open their home schedule with a visit from the Hornets on October 22, the 20-year-old Okoro (born exactly one year after teammate Darius Garland) is going to experience something he never has before – a full-throated full house at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Okoro will be ready for primetime when that date rolls around. He closed his rookie season on a major heater and looked like a man among boys at time in Vegas Summer League, where he was Cleveland’s leading scorer, and has been a fixture at CCC in Independence all offseason long.
The soft-spoken youngster from Atlanta has become a fan favorite; Clevelanders can spot a blue-collar guy from the jump.
The 6-6, 225-pounder came into the league out of Auburn known as the most versatile defender in the Draft, and he lived up to that billing – accepting the toughest perimeter assignment every night. But as the season progressed, he grew exponentially on the offensive end.
If there’s a Cavalier who’ll be ready to rumble when Training Camp tips off one week from Monday, it’s Isaac Okoro.
The knock on Okoro coming into the Draft was that he was a work in progress on the offensive end of the floor. And as a 19-year-old entering the league under odd circumstances, he was hesitant in the early going.
After netting double-figures in his Cavs debut, Okoro took the collar in his next start against Detroit, then was sidelined for the next five contests due to health and safety protocols. Those would be the last five games he’d miss all season.
Okoro would proceed to lead all rookies in minutes (32.4mpg) and led the Cavaliers in games-played, suiting up for 67. He was also 7th in his freshman class in scoring (9.5ppg) and earned All-Rookie Second Team honors last spring.
On the defensive end of the floor, Okoro took the toughest defensive assignment – 1-through-4 – every night without complaint. He definitely took his lumps, but just when it looked like he was hitting the infamous ‘rookie wall,’ Okoro responded with his strongest play of the season, closing the campaign in style.
He notched double-figure scoring in 12 of his final 13 games this year – averaging 15.7 points per over that stretch with three games of 20-plus points, including his first career double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds vs. Indiana) and a career-best 32-point outburst in an overtime thriller against the Suns.
In that contest at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, he became the first Cavs rookie to top the 30-point mark since 2016, the first one to go 9-for-9 from the stripe since 2012 and the first to reach 32 points in 16 field goal attempts or less.
3 … rookies in Cavaliers franchise history to record at least 500 points, 50 made three-pointers, 50 steals and 20 blocks in a single season – joining LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Okoro led Cleveland in blocked shots on eight occasions and in steals 13 times and was one of five rookies (along with LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, Jae’Sean Tate and Anthony Edwards) to average at least 9.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game.
Like many of the young Cavaliers, Isaac Okoro is still years away from his prime. But in just one season he proved to be a selfless teammate and tireless worker. He was Cleveland’s most durable player.
The rugged swingman looked like a different player by the time Summer League rolled around and was outstanding in his two appearances, starting at off-guard in each game and leading Cleveland in scoring with a 16.0ppg average on 13-of-22 shooting.
The Cavs would love him to show this more assertive and aggressive side as a sophomore. He’s proved to the coaching staff and his teammates – and, maybe most importantly, to himself – that he has the potential to be a two-way star at the NBA level.