J.B. Bickerstaff thinks Isaac Okoro criticism has been ‘too early,’ compares him to Darius Garland

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Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Isaac Okoro showed why the team drafted him so high with a 32-point performance against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

Okoro, 20, has had an up-and-down rookie season, but he has shown some promise that he could be a long-term fixture in the Cavs’ rotation.

Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff compared Okoro’s development to that of point guard Darius Garland.

Garland has looked like a completely different player in his second NBA season, and Bickerstaff explained why some of the criticism of Okoro’s play may be unwarranted.

“It bothers me because of the impact it can have on the kid,” Bickerstaff said of the impatience often shown with young players. “We’re trying to create environments where players can flourish and criticism of a kid who started the season at 19 years old and played one year of college basketball on a season that was cut short, without a real training camp and preseason and summer league, it’s way too early to pass judgment on a kid like that.

“Like, understand the position that he’s been put in. Give him some time. Because how many rookies come in and dominate or are at their best in their first year? It was similar with Darius. There was a lot of criticism toward Darius and given a year of work and then a full season, I think we have seen how much he has improved. I truly believe Isaac will do the same. I think it’s easy to criticize. But it’s premature to pass judgment and expect him to already be a polished or finished product playing against the best players on the planet. We have high hopes for Isaac.”

With last offseason being one of the most unusual offseasons in NBA history, it is not surprising that Okoro has had some growing pains in his rookie season.

Nonetheless, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft is averaging 9.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game this season.

The Cavs certainly hope that he will continue to show glimpses of his potential over the final stretch of the 2020-21 regular season and beyond.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.