Isaac Okoro is Showing His Versatility

By now, it should be evident that Isaac Okoro doesn’t get measured by the numbers that he puts up. He gets measured by the numbers that his opponents don’t.

It’s not that Okoro hasn’t produced in his 4th season out of Auburn. He made statistical jumps almost across the board, with career bests in assists, blocks and three-point shooting percentage. His 9.4ppg was just off his career-high of 9.6 as a rookie. 

Here’s another number: over the past two seasons, the Cavs are 89-56 with Okoro in the lineup, 6-15 without him. 

Through the first two games of the 2024 postseason, the Magic are looking at some ugly numbers, thanks to Okoro and the Cleveland defense. 

Heading home in an 0-2 hole, Orlando has failed to crack 90 points in either game. The Magic are shooting 34 percent from the floor and an anemic 24 percent (17-for-72) from beyond the arc. They haven’t even shot well from the stripe, despite making 56 combined trips – connecting on 68 percent. They’ve handed out just 34 assists and Cleveland recorded 11 steals on Monday night. 

Okoro had four of those 11 picks in the Game 2 win, adding 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-5 from deep. It was the second double-figure scoring performance of his career – also netting 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in Game 5 last year against New York. 

Okoro went into last year’s postseason after having missed the last six games of the regular season with a knee injury. He was never close to 100 percent. But he comes into this year’s Playoff run much closer. 

“I don't really think anybody comes to the Playoffs being 100 percent – everybody's usually fought through something,” said the rugged 23-year-old swingman. “So, at this point, nobody's really a hundred percent, but I’m good.” 

Okoro led Cleveland’s second unit in scoring in Game 2, with Caris LeVert pitching in with eight points, canning a pair of triples in the win. In Game 1, Okoro finished with four points on 1-of-2 shooting, adding a pair of boards, a steal and a block in 18 minutes. 

Defensively, the Cavs have dominated Orlando’s bench through two games. Mo Wagner has notched double-figures on a combined 9-of-16 shooting in both games. The rest of Orlando’s bench is a combined 3-for-29.

The word coming into this year’s postseason – after the results of last year’s postseason – was whether or not the Wine and Gold could handle the physicality of spring NBA basketball. And against a physical Orlando squad, they’ve passed that test in two home contests. 

It’s a style of hoops that suits the defensive-minded Okoro just fine. 

“With another year of experience, I know how physical (the Playoffs) can be,” said the Atlanta native. “I mean, it plays into the cards of how I like to play, so it helps me out a lot. Orlando's a physical team. I'm a physical player. We're a physical team. We like to joke that, in the Playoffs, the first one to 100 wins the game. So, I mean, we love games like that – dog fights, ugly games, defensive-minded games. We love stuff like that.” 

Going back to the numbers, they speak for themselves when comparing how some of the league’s brightest stars have done against Isaac Okoro vs. how they did against other Cavaliers defenders. That list of stars includes Damian Lillard: 9-of-34 vs. Okoro, 22-of-47 vs. other Cavs, Jaylen Brown: 1-of-11 | 27-of-46, Anthony Edwards:  5-of-18 | 8-of-26, Tyrese Maxey: 1-of-6 | 28-of-65, Jayson Tatum: 3-of-8 (.375) 21-of-54, finally, Paolo Banchero: 2-of-10 | 33-of-66.

One of Okoro’s biggest fans is his head coach. 

“I mean, he just impacts the game in so many different ways,” praised J.B. Bickerstaff, following Monday’s 10-point victory. “He has the ability to guard multiple positions. He can guard up, he can guard down. He finds ways to score in transition. And now you see the confidence that he has on his shot, not just from the corners anymore. He's putting it on the floor, taking step backs. 

“So, he's got that belief. But he plays in a way that inspires his teammates. He's just willing to do all the dirty things – the loose balls, the long rebounds, take any defensive assignment. He's the spirit of our group and he's an inspiration to the rest of his teammates.”

Okoro is in his fourth season, but he’s still a Playoff neophyte. And he’s glad that the squad has brought in some veteran leadership to help the team grow up. 

“Bringing in veteran guys like Max, Tristan, George, Marcus – they've been here before, they've had this experience. So, them just teaching us throughout each game, different things to look for, having that experience helps out a lot.”

One of the squad’s most dependable, durable players, a quiet leader, a low-key funnyman, Okoro is part of the current Cavaliers’ DNA. Aside from Dean Wade and Darius Garland, the longest-tenured member of the squad knows exactly how good they can be as this postseason unfolds. 

“I felt like, through each game we were learning, we were getting better throughout the season. We've never had our full group, and now we’re getting in some games in together. So, I mean, through the first week of practice we've continued to learn each other – and as each game goes on, we're getting better and better.”