Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Isaac Okoro continues to believe that he should have been the top overall pick in November’s NBA draft and remains focused on making his case for that belief.
Okoro was taken fifth overall by the Cavaliers, with the rookie believing that other teams prized offensive skills more than the defensive talents he brings to the court.
“I feel like defense is undervalued in this league,” Okoro said. “Nowadays, I feel like most people go and look in the box score and they try to find the offensive stuff. But if you really watch the game and really tune in you can see how much we impact the defensive side.”
In his brief time in the NBA, Okoro has gotten a quick baptism on defense, showing considerable range by guarding players like Kevin Durant, James Harden and former Cavs forward LeBron James.
Leading up to the draft, Okoro felt that he had made his case about why he should be chosen first, an honor that went to University of Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards.
“Yeah. I did make that case,” Okoro said. “Feel like coming in I’ve had a great impact. Growing up, I’ve always had an impact, always been a winner and feel like I’ve always done little things to help a team win. Rebounding, getting on the floor, guarding the best players like I do right now.”
While the challenge of matching up against players such as Durant, Harden and James was a formidable one, Okoro sees his current efforts as the latest stepping stone in his basketball career.
“I feel like I’ve guarded good players all my life,” Okoro said. “Of course, not as great as the players in the NBA. So, just playing against those guys is always a learning experience.
“I think I’ve grown pretty well. During that stretch where we played Brooklyn, Boston, LA … I felt I learned a lot about keeping my hands straight up, learning when an offensive player loves to relax or comes off two screens, just learning their team.”
On Wednesday night, he’ll face Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers, with Leonard being a player that Okoro has modeled himself after during his growth as a player. Okoro said that he also modeled his game after the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguodala.
Considering that Leonard is considered to be among the defensive elite in the NBA and has twice won Finals MVP honors, Okoro is making sure that striving to be the very best remains part of his basketball DNA.