‘A winning player’: What Isaac Okoro brings to the NBA

by 24USATVNov. 19, 2020, 3 a.m. 18
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Draft day is here. On Wednesday night, whenreceives that phone call from an NBA team and hears his name called, a dream will be realized. A goal achieved."It's just going to be a very special moment because I know how much I want this moment," Okoro said. "I know how much my parents want this moment. I know how much my friends and family want it. So it's just going to be a very special moment for all of us."Okoro has already made history as the first one-and-done player at Auburn. If he goes in the lottery (first 14 picks) as expected, it will mark the first time in program history the Tigers have had players drafted in the first round in back-to-back years. Chuma Okeke was taken No. 16 overall last year by the Orlando Magic.For whichever team drafts him Wednesday night, what are they getting in Okoro? We posed this question to his coaches, teammates as well as to national college basketball and draft experts."Okoro is a long-armed wing, very athletic, very strong, and he's an outstanding defender. He can switch out and guard anybody 1 through 4, and that's a valuable skill in the NBA because the NBA is a lot about switching now. The court gets so spread out and all that, you've got to be able to guard space and he can do that with his strength and athleticism and his lateral quickness. And then he's excellent at attacking the basket off the dribble. He got to the free throw line a ton. He's not a great shooter. That's something he needs to improve upon, to refine his mechanics and become a consistent perimeter shooter, but he's a good passer, great personality as a basketball player, and he is ultra-competitive. Never backs down. You often hear so-and-so is a winner. Well, he's had a winning profile his whole career. So I'm very high on him."I'm not saying they're going to do this, but he's the type of player that the Warriors would grab. Now would they do that at No. 2 when (James) Wiseman is available? I don't know. But he's a Warriors type of player, so that means he can play for anybody. He's legit.""They're going to get a guy that's going to walk through the door. He's going to sit down with his head coach, look him in the eye, never take his eyes off him, and he's going to listen. And he's going to find out from that coach exactly what that coach wants. So many players will walk into that meeting in that office and think about, 'This is what I bring. How are you going to use me best?' Not Isaac. He will do what his coach asks him to do offensively and defensively."He's got a high basketball IQ. He can play multiple positions. He can guard 1 through 5 on the floor. I've had a lot of guys who can guard 1 through 4 but none that can guard 1 through 5. Quick enough to keep little guards in front of him. Strong enough to where you're not going to roll him down and big boy him. I think he's as-ready-to-play prospect as there is in this draft because I think he's the best defensive player in the draft, particular his perimeter defense. He'll rebound his position. Offensively with 4 and 5 out, everything being spread, driving downhill – Isaac can drive downhill and score through contact. He'll get to the foul line a lot. And he can play off two feet and make plays for others. On the perimeter the ball doesn't stick in his hands, so he knows how to move the ball. He's unselfish. The only question as to whether or not he's going to be a good NBA player or a great NBA player is whether or not he's going to be a consistent knockdown deep 3-point threat. If he continues to develop that aspect of his game, I think obviously he's going to be a great NBA player."I do think the NBA is doing their homework a lot more as far as character. Character and culture count. They do. Teams are investing a lot of money in these guys, and they want to bring someone who is going to make their locker room better. Isaac will make this locker room better. He's popular with his teammates. He's not about himself. He just wants to come in and win. What is? He's 112-10 in his last 122 games. There are a lot of teams drafting at the top of that draft that haven't won a lot. Isaac has won a lot. He'll bring that to the table.""What makes Isaac stand out? He stays in the gym. You'll never see him out anywhere. He's focused, locked in, does the same routine every day. He's hungry, and all he knows is basketball. He's not worried about going out, parties, etc. I think whoever drafts him, they're getting a great kid first off. Somebody who is going to give their all. He's going to work hard and just make the team better overall. Last year he wasn't shooting as well from the 3. He's been working on that. Now I call him a sharpshooter. He's shooting it way better than last year. He's a very unselfish dude. He's going to find the open player. His defense is incredible. I'm really excited for him and ready to see who's going to take that chance on him.""I think what sets him apart is his competitive spirit, his versatility. He's ready to defend in the NBA right now. I think he's a matchup problem because of his ability to attack you and play in the open floor. He's like a freight train coming at you. But defensively and his ability to rebound, especially in the small-ball NBA today, makes him so valuable. Some people are saying Justice Winslow. I'm saying if he starts to shoot a little better maybe he's Kelly Oubre but a harder-playing, tougher, more competitive defender and rebounder."I put a premium on winning players. He's a winning player. I put a premium on character and toughness. You saw what happened with the Heat this year. Why did the Heat win? Why were they so good? Fiercely competitive guys that love the game and competed and played to their strengths.right now, he's not the best jump shooter in the draft. But he knows that. The difference inand other guys is other guys aren't the best shooters or not at that point in their career yet, yet they continue to show people what they can't do. To me,does everything to show people what makes him different and what he can do. He defends anyone, is as competitive as anyone, rebounds his position, relentless attacking in transition, terrific on the baseline, hard to keep off the glass."I don't think he's the second pick in the draft, but he's a lottery pick and he's going to be in the league 12 years and he's going to be a winning player. He's going to be great in the locker room, and he's going to help an organization win. Too many guys do what they can't do. He doesn't do that. He plays to win.""His defense. And he never complains. Those two things, that's why his teammates love him. Because even if he doesn't get the ball, he's never worried about it. And when he gets it, he makes his teammates better. I'm happy for him. This is what we talked about when we were younger. Seeing it today, his dream become reality, it's crazy.""Okoro just makes teams better through his sheer presence on the court. He's the consummate team player who does everything, and he does so while being an elite athlete at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. He also is a fluid athlete despite a well-built 225-pound frame that allows him to play physically. More than anything though, it starts with his basketball IQ. His feel for the game is off the charts, most noticeably on defense. Okoro is terrific in all capacities. On offense, he shows flashes as an on-ball creator. He's not quite consistent because he doesn't have the threat of the shot to play off of, but he's better than he gets credit for as a slasher. Does a great job of getting downhill and being tough to get in front of. An elite finisher for a wing. Made 64.2 percent of his shots at the rim this season in half court settings, second-best among all top 100 wings in the 2020 NBA Draft class. More than that though, Okoro is also an absolutely terrific passer out of these situations. The big question here is his jumper, as Okoro does not have that weapon in his tool bag yet."

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