Chuma Okeke Is Taking a Big Step Forward In His Development

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Among the many exciting storylines with this young, reenergized Orlando Magic squad is the progression of rookie Chuma Okeke. He has taken his game to a whole new level over the last week.

Over his last four games, the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder has averaged 17.8 points on 62.8% shooting from the floor and 63.2% from 3-point range.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the things he has done very well during this recent stretch.

Let’s start on the offensive end, where he’s showing much more confidence. One of the things we knew about Okeke before he was even drafted by the Magic in 2019 is that he’s very unselfish. Making the extra pass and swinging the ball to an open shooter is something he’s always done, going back to his high school and college days.

It’s his playmaking, though, that has really evolved. This facet of his game has improved so much that maybe, just maybe we are looking at the making of a point forward. His vision and instincts are perhaps his most underrated qualities.

Expected of him even before the season began was reliable 3-point shooting. During training camp, teammates were telling the media that he was shooting it extremely well from downtown in practice, and most believed he, if not right away, would eventually transform into one of the team’s best outside shooters.

That appears to be coming to fruition. The more floor spacers there are on the court for attacking guards to kick out to, the more effective an NBA offense typically is.

Creating shots off the dribble was not really considered a strength of his before getting drafted. But, he has shown some promise with this aspect of his game. He has far better footwork, balance and body control than many had previously given him credit for.

While his ball handling needs to improve, the 22-year-old has a nifty spin move when he gets into the lane, which he’s used a few times lately to carve out some space inside.

Another key component of his game is his rebounding. He has a knack for forecasting the path of the ball after it comes off the rim, which is something several of his Magic teammates, including Khem Birch and Wendell Carter Jr., also do well.

Where he really has a chance to be special is on the defensive side. Throughout the course of the game against the Lakers, he had success guarding opponents at different positions and with different skillsets. In some stretches, he was matched up against the speedy Dennis Schroder. In others, he was going up against the tough-minded Markieff Morris and on several possessions he was pitted against Kyle Kuzma, a streaky, but versatile offensive talent.

All year, he has shown to have the lateral quickness to stay in front of or at least not be completely blown past on drives. With a 7-foot wingspan, he definitely makes it harder for opponents to get clean looks at the basket.

Another way he makes an impact on defense is with his instincts and anticipation. Expect him to rack up a lot of deflections throughout his career. Over the last five games, he has amassed eight of them, which is the most on the Magic during this span.

Playing his more natural position – the four – lately has helped a lot, too. An interesting question going forward, particularly next season and beyond when the Magic are healthier, is how he and Jonathan Isaac will look on the floor together. For both to maximize their skills, getting Okeke more practice time at the three could greatly benefit him, as well as Isaac, although he, too, can probably juggle both forward spots.

Carter, one of the Magic’s recent additions who happens to also be Okeke’s childhood friend, isn’t surprised at all that his fellow Atlanta-area native is blossoming as rapidly as he is.

“Chuma has always been a great player,” Carter said. “He has sort of an unorthodox (style) where he can make tough two-point shots, he’s a great defender, great rebounder also. He has a certain feel for the game that a lot of players don’t. With him being so young, his potential is through the roof. Constantly coming in and working. He definitely cares about this game, cares about this team. You can tell every time he goes out there and plays. I look forward to playing with him more and more.”

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