While the Cleveland Cavaliers boast one of the most talented starting lineups in professional basketball, there’s one position that remains a slight Achilles Heel: the swing spot.
Caris LeVert brings the pedigree of a 20+ scorer with weak defense chops. Isaac Okoro is either the team’s best perimeter defender or a close second behind Evan Mobley but is a far cry away from a three-and-D wing (Okoro averaged 2.3 attempts from deep this season).
On most nights, the team’s collective offense behind Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland accounts for Okoro’s disappearing acts. Yet it stands to wonder if the Cavs need to upgrade the position, especially after the team’s recent win over the Knicks in which Okoro played all of 2:45 minutes.
“They are not at a point where they are going to trade (Isaac) Okoro, but they need to figure out what he is for them,” an Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports’ Sean Deveney recently. “If there is an opportunity to move him, I don’t think they would mind trying. But they probably give him another year to figure things out.”
The GM went on to explain the best-case scenario for Okoro, which involves a short-term transition to the bench in favor of a veteran who can mentor the third-year wing.
“The best situation is to go out and get a guy who can fill his role in the short term and have him come off the bench. A Bruce Brown, if he opts out, or Josh Richardson. Get a veteran in who can mentor him a bit, someone who does not have Okoro’s talent but who has that hustle and the IQ to fill in whatever gaps his team needs.”
It’s not the first time Okoro’s been the subject of trade chatter.
Multiple Teams Liked Isaac Okoro at Trade Deadline
In February, Okoro was a frequent topic of trade-deadline debate in league circles. Some days Okoro was destined to be swapped for the likes of Kelly Oubre or Josh Richardson and others, he figured to be a long-term part of the Cavaliers’ corps.
And according to Sean Deveney of Heavy Sports, there’s a reason why conflicting storylines persisted: the Cavs’ front office wasn’t in total agreement about the path forward.
“While some in the franchise want to be aggressive at the Thursday deadline, the prevailing thought is that this is still a team in development and that patience, especially with an asset like [Isaac] Okoro, is needed,” Deveney wrote.
“‘A lot of teams like him,’ one Eastern Conference executive told Deveney. ‘But he has been up and down. When he is good, it looks like he plays with some confidence, and with him, it is more about confidence and ability at this point.’”
Though the eye test might suggest improvement from Okoro in his third season with Cleveland, he’s taken steps back in several offensive categories, including scoring and assists. His three-point rate increased (up to 36%), but his volume stagnated.
JB Bickerstaff Addresses Isaac Okoro ‘Frustration’
In the playoffs thus far, Okoro has scored six points on 1-7 shooting. In fairness, his offense isn’t the reason for his inclusion in the starting rotation. He’s a strong perimeter defender who isn’t afraid of hanging with an opposing team’s best guard.
And after missing the team’s last six games with knee soreness, the player’s frustration from missing the court was palpable.
“There is frustration and for all the right reasons,” Bickerstaff said after beating the Magic, per Kelsey Russo of The Athletic. “You know Isaac and where his intent is and where his heart is, like all he wants to do is be on the floor, competing with his teammates. And he takes pride in his ability to be available. So it is frustrating for him. He keeps a pretty even spirit all the time. So he knows how to engage his teammates, keep it light, still show his support, but you know on the inside, it’s eating him up.”
The Cavs take on the Knicks in Game Three of the first round on Thursday night.