With actual games seeming like a pipe dream at the moment, the NBA Draft is perhaps the most important upcoming event in the basketball landscape. That is especially true for a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves, whose woeful season has positioned them as one of the highest-profile teams come draft night. The Wolves currently hold the third worst record in the league which, per Tankathon, lands them with the odds you see below to rise or fall in the lottery. They also have Brooklyn’s first round pick, which will convert if the Nets land outside of the lottery, which they are currently slated to do.
Keep in mind that, within the true spirit of Minnesota sports, the Timberwolves have never been lucky enough for the ping pong balls to fall their way and move up in the draft standings. Even if that doesn’t change this year, you can bet president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and his front office cohorts have a plan for any and every scenario.
In the third edition of the Canis Hoopus Draft Radar, we take a look at a player who could potentially land on this Wolves squad come draft night, Auburn freshman Isaac Okoro.
Draft Age: 19.4
Position: Wing (SF)
Standing Reach: 8’4.5
Weight: 225 lbs
Per Game: 31.5 Minutes, 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assist, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 51.2% FG, 28.6% 3PT, 67.4% FT
Per 36 Minutes: 14.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks
Advanced: 58.5 TS%, 55.3% EFG, 19.6% Usage Rate, .154 WS/40, 7.7 BPM
After a promising freshman year at Auburn, Isaac Okoro has solidified himself as a lottery lock. As you scour the various mock drafts around the web, you can find him going anywhere from the fourth pick to the 11th, landing him firmly in the range of Minnesota’s first pick. After ranking 36th in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) coming out of high school, it’s easy to see why scouts are impressed with his year-to-year growth.
- Defensive Technique and Versatility
Okoro thrived individually and in a team defensive scheme during his one year at Auburn, and projects to step into the NBA as an already plus defender. On the ball, he shadows his man exceptionally, with quick feet playing partner to his advanced instincts on where to be and when to be there. Add in his 225 pound frame, which is bulky for someone standing at just 6-foot-6, and he has the perfect make-up to cover guards, wings and even the occasional power forward.
Anthony Edwards, who is projected in many circles to be the first cab off the rank come draft night, struggled mightily with Okoro on his hip during the two games the pair faced off in. Edwards shot just 13-31 from the field, 5-19 from the 3-point line and racked up 10 combined turnovers in those match-ups. He wasn’t directly defending Edwards 100 percent of the time, but he spent the majority of those games shading him and gave the Georgia freshman hell when he was.
Here, you get a glimpse of the struggle Edwards (and many others who had the displeasure of being guarded by Okoro) had to deal with.
He also identifies and completes switches seamlessly, which is an uber-important skill to possess heading into the switch-heavy schemes of the next level. Here, you can see him (#23) switch three times in as many seconds, finishing the play by walling up a much bigger opponent and forcing the ball out of bounds.
Okoro always has his head on a swivel and is constantly looking to put out fires defensively. The play below gives you a perfect example of the high IQ and versatile defense that will make him such an appealing prospect for teams desperate for defensive reinforcement.
It begins with him quickly positioning himself in the potential passing lane, making the ball-handler find another option. Then, he zones off his opponent and kills that option. When his teammate doesn’t rotate and cover his original man, he jets back, lunges for the ball and puts the cherry on an amazing defensive possession by forcing the turnover.
These are the little things that appeal to every coach.
His 6-foot-8 wingspan isn’t elite by any means, which limits Okoro’s upside as a true defensive playmaker. He isn’t going to block a lot of shots and he isn’t long enough to be a constant passing lane threat. But, he makes up for it with elite positioning and the ability to recover and clean up his mistakes. He gets through screens fairly well for someone with his girth, but it is an aspect of his game that could still use some polishing. Overall, however, Okoro is easily one of the best defensive prospects in the class.
- Slashing Ability
On the other end of the floor, Okoro has the potential to become a high-level slasher and finisher around the rim. He wasn’t a prominent feature of Auburn’s offense, a team that was filled with seniors who were given the lion’s share of the offensive responsibility. However, when he did get his opportunity, Okoro showed plenty of promise as a driver and finisher around the rim.
His biggest propellers are his strength, first step, touch and handle, all of which are above average for a 19-year-old wing. A testament to the effectiveness of his skill set is the fact he shot 60.3 percent on all 2-pointers this season. He rarely attempts mid-range jumpers, which does help that number rise, but it’s still very encouraging to see him hitting such a high percentage of his shots from inside the arc.
His strength is a standout. It allows him to put his shoulder into retreating defenders, dislodging them and giving him an easier path to the rim. Given that crucial inch of space his low center of gravity and strength create, the freshman is able to finish in a variety of ways with both hands. And if defense recovers, he is adept at scoring through contact.
Preceding his lowered shoulders and showings of strength is often Okoro’s ability to handle the ball and beat his man. He isn’t going to break ankles with flashy dribble moves, but he knows where he wants to go and has a handle that is tight and low enough to get there without losing the rock.
This all goes hand-in-hand with his first step, which might be his most lethal on-ball skill. For someone his size, Okoro has elite burst over short distances. This helps him punish defenders who close out too hard or create quick separation in isolation, pick-and-roll or hand-off action. When he does get going downhill, he can finish with his aforementioned soft touch or use his underrated vertical athleticism to finish with power.
If Okoro can continue to grow as a slasher when he enters the big leagues, he could become a valuable cog in an offense — even without a reliable 3-point shot.
- Offensive Rebounding
Undoubtedly a niche skill for a 6-foot-6 wing, but Okoro made a genuine impact on the offensive glass for Auburn. Almost half of his rebounds (1.9 of 4.4) came on the offensive end of the court and he often turned them into easy points for his team.
He isn’t going walk into the NBA and start hauling in offensive boards, but it’s never a bad thing to have a wing who is willing to punish players who don’t box out and fight for every loose ball around the rim.
As we’ve learned a thousand times before, hustle doesn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded and players who scrap and claw on every possession often contribute directly to winning basketball.
- Secondary Playmaker Ability
It’s extremely unlikely that Okoro ever becomes a true playmaker, especially since he was never gifted the opportunity to develop that side of his game at Auburn, but he has shown signs that he is a talented passer and could potentially become a table-setter in a secondary capacity.
He is an excellent drive-and-kick player, which meshes well with his ability to beat his man off the dribble. The threat of Okoro scoring draws players off their man and toward the 19-year-old, allowing him to fire out passes to open shooters. This is an extremely valuable skill to possess at the next level, especially on teams that are constantly searching for open triples.
While his vision is above-average and he is always willing to move the ball, most of his kick-outs are simple passes. However, he has the ability to make more advanced passes like cross-court baseline dishes and skip passes to the weak-side corner out of pick-and-roll.
If he can harness and enhance his drive-and-kick game, it only increases his offensive value. In addition, if he can refine his ability to find cutters as well as shooters he will build an even stronger case as a plus on offense, despite his shooting woes.
It may be exciting to see Okoro drive the lane and finish with a sweet touch or a pinpoint pass, but it’s equally as concerning watching him struggle to connect on 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers and free throws. His form and mechanics aren’t bad, which gives hope that he could eventually become a league-average shooter with better spacing and less attention, but the statistics certainly don’t back that up at the moment.
He failed to knock down a single triple per game in his lone collegiate season, shooting just 28.6 percent on 2.5 attempts per game (20-70 overall). And while he was able to draw a fair amount of shooting fouls with his slashing ability, he converted just 67.4 percent of them.
He was a reluctant shooter unless he was in acres of space, which is a trait that could go either way depending on how you view it. Either he was smart for only taking shots he believes he could make, or he was so bad from beyond the arc that he had no confidence taking anything but wide-open jumpers. In the end, it’s probably a mix of both.
Many players of his defensive ilk are pegged into a 3-and-D role, which would severely hurt his potential. Okoro needs to be able to get downhill off screens and create for others in drive-and-kick situations to be an effective offensive threat. Outside of that, he isn’t going to make a team better. That 3-and-D life might just be the reality for Okoro, though. In that case, he will need to become a much better spot-up shooter. Without doing so, he will never become anything more than a handy glue-guy.
- Shot Creation
Okoro’s ability to connect from long-range is disconcerting, but even more detrimental to his star potential is his inability to create any sort of separation to get off mid-range or long-distance shots off the dribble. To put it bluntly, there isn’t a star wing in the league who can’t find ways to get his shot off, which spells trouble for the 19-year-old.
It’s extremely rare to see Okoro shoot any shot in the mid-range, which may not sound too bad with the way the NBA is shunning the in-between shots these days. However, it is important that college and NBA players have the ability to do so when they must. Okoro just simply doesn’t have that tool in his toolbox.
Outside the arc, he flashed the occasional step-back or fake-and-relocate jumper, one of which you can see below. But, as previously discussed, he doesn’t make nearly enough of his catch-and-shoot triples to have much belief in his off-the-dribble long-balls.
He has a nice handle, so maybe Okoro will develop more wiggle and ability to create space for himself but, for now, he is a zero in that area.
Fit With Minnesota
If Minnesota does indeed select Okoro once draft night rolls around, there are a few different ways you could look at his fit.
On one hand, the Timberwolves are desperate for defenders of Okoro’s variety. He could seamlessly guard any point-of-attack player, which would alleviate some pressure off the shoulders of D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley while giving Karl-Anthony Towns help in pick-and-roll game. His ability to get to the rim and make plays for others would also look nice in a Ryan Saunders offense that is predicated on ball and player movement.
On the other, Saunders’ offense is ultra-reliant on 3-point shooting, which would make it hard for Okoro to feature heavily. With Russell and Towns taking up the bulk of the touches, it would likely relegate Okoro to a defensive hound who is rarely involved in the offense, limiting his potential effectiveness greatly.
Depending on which side of the fence you sit on probably determines how you feel overall about Okoro in Wolves colors.