Despite being an alumnus of the University of Alabama, former NBA scout Doc Martin agreed to take a deep dive into evaluating NBA prospect Isaac Okoro of his school’s bitter in-state rival, the Auburn Tigers. He shared his takeaways.
I recently went to the doctor’s office to go over the results from my yearly physical. It was a conversation involving mixed reviews from the doctor. He explained that everything checked out and I was in great shape for my age. He paused and took a deep breath, and with this puzzled look on his face, he explained to me that he could not understand how, in such a short time, my vision had gone from 20/20 to 20/200 in just a year. Naturally, he began to quiz me to see if he could pinpoint the cause. Suddenly, I remembered that I watched many videos of Auburn’s young NBA prospect Isaac Okoro. As an Alabama graduate, it has been absolute torture on my eyes to look at the sea of orange and blue on the court and in the crowd for an extended amount of time. Luckily for me, I was able to mute the videos to refrain from hearing the school fight song and damaging my hearing. I was given strict instructions from my doctor to avoid looking at that “other” schools’ colors for the next few days and my vision should return to normal. I’m happy to report that, as I proofread this article, my vision has returned to normal and I’m excited to see Isaac’s development and future in the NBA. Most importantly, seeing him in another color jersey other than that hideous orange and blue! All kidding aside, Okoro is an impressive prospect. Here are my takeaways after doing a deep dive into his film:
Position: SG/SF | Height 6’6” | Weight 225 | Team: Auburn | Class: Freshman
STATS: 12.9 PPG | 4.4 RPG | 0.9 BPG | 51.4% FG | 29.0% 3FG
Isaac Okoro doesn’t have the physique of a typical freshman. At 225 pounds, Okoro has a frame from top to bottom that should allow him to adjust to the next level from a physical standpoint without any problems. In Auburn’s 4-out-1 in motion offense, the floor is consistently spread, allowing driving lanes and opportunities for drive and kicks. Also, with Okoro’s size, he enabled Auburn to play small but fast. He is at his best in the half-court. He does an excellent job of attacking downhill due to poor defensive closeouts. Often, teams are sagging off and playing the percentages of him knocking down a perimeter shot. Off the dribble, he’s a straight-line driver trying to get his strong shoulders passed his defender for leverage, and at that point, the defender has no choice but to foul or let him score. With his frame and explosiveness, he can finish above the rim and with contact, usually taking off one foot. If you’re a defender underneath the rim, it might be in your best interest to get out of his way, because he’s attacking with bad intentions.
One of the many characteristics I like about Okoro is that the ball does not stick in his hands. Whether it is a quick ball reversal or a strong drive and kick out to a teammate, he seems quite decisive when the ball touches his hands. Playing with three other guards on the floor and being the best pro prospect, he could easily get seduced into being selfish and only looking for scoring opportunities for himself. That tends to be the norm for some freshmen that have future pro buzz; but Isaac plays unselfishly, with a solid basketball IQ and composure. You will find him on most plays in the paint hustling for offensive rebounds with his tenacious energy. Okoro has a hard hat mentality, and in concert with his size, strength, and athleticism, he’s able to bump and grind in the paint to keep possessions alive.
Offensively, Okoro’s game is still very much under construction. While he plays with a level of patience and rarely forces the issue in the half-court, I question if that patience is due to his lack of confidence putting the ball on the floor. He lacks creativity in iso situations and can be a wrecking ball once those secondary defenders rotate over from the help side. Naturally, he’s going to face defenders that will be able to beat him to his initial attacking spot and will need to add some counters and secondary moves to his game. Another glaring hole in his game is his perimeter shooting. When Okoro is on the floor, he’s going to be the guy teams rotate off until he proves he can be a consistent threat from the perimeter. However, in the meantime, teams will play him strictly for the drive.
Okoro’s collegiate three-point percentage (29%) might make you cringe a little bit. Still, there’s enough evidence of former players making the journey from college to the pros who were willing to put in the time to become a more viable threat, and I feel confident enough to say that we can add Okoro to that list. During his freshman campaign at Georgia, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s three-point percentage was 30%. He made a significant jump his sophomore year to 37%, so the evidence is there to show if you’re a player willing to work, improvements can be made. Okoro would benefit from a solid player development coach and department that can help him tweak his mechanics and instill some additional confidence in his perimeter game.
Increasingly more teams are switching on-ball and off-ball actions. Teams are generally playing smaller with only one true big on the floor, surrounded by wings who can defend multiple positions. Mainly, the premise behind this concept is to play faster, create chaos for opponents, and generate more scoring opportunities. The Auburn Tigers used this scheme this past season with their versatile lineups. The Tigers were ranked 114th in pace of play, with only two other SEC teams ranked higher than them. The Tigers defensive efficiency had them ranked 172nd in the nation. Okoro’s versatility allowed Auburn to switch virtually every match-up on the floor, with the only defensive perimeter liability being Austin Wiley.
After earning his stripes in practice, I think most coaches on the professional level would have confidence putting Okoro on the floor as a rookie for a defensive stretch or a crucial possession. I could be biased, but Okoro playing in the SEC this year was probably the best thing for him and talent evaluators. It’s pretty clear to see his defensive versatility versus the array of offensive players he has shown he is able to defend. He’s shown the ability to move his feet and contain the slashers, and the ability to contest jump shots without fouling. Okoro has had moments where he’s made freshman mistakes. For instance, on down screens, he sometimes tends to chase when he needs to go over the top or will go over the top when he needs to trail. In their matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, there were a few instances where I saw he was not attached to Tyrese Maxey after a re-screen. At the next level, those mistakes will lead to easy lobs to the basket. It is those types of nuances of the game Okoro will gain through coaching at the next level. He does not have the quickest of feet guarding the initial bounce but makes up for it with his effort to stay in the play. He appears to defend the ball better when the offensive player has a live dribble versus attacking from a triple threat position. Given how hard Okoro plays, he did not foul out once in 31 games this past season, which is impressive. Prospects like Okoro get labeled as high energy guys because of their defensive capabilities, but I would say Okoro is more intense than high energy. There is a level of concentration and pride that he plays with which is a rare thing to find in young prospects.
As NBA teams prepare for the upcoming 2020 NBA Draft and look to construct their roster through free agency, Isaac Okoro should be considered a legitimate piece to their overall puzzle. For a freshman, Okoro understands who he is and who he can be at the next level. He’s a raw talent, and it’s no secret that he’s got some work to do to fine-tune his game offensively. His defensive versatility will allow him to get some minutes on the floor, but it will be the strides Okoro can make offensively that will determine how valuable a potential team sees with him. Okoro plays with hunger and I feel that he will be no stranger to the gym. Typically, young prospects get seduced with the idea that they have to score to be considered an NBA prospect; Okoro, however, is more of a throwback player paying homage to those players that solidified their careers on the defensive end of the floor. If you examine the past NBA champions, every roster had one, if not multiple, defensive stoppers. If an NBA team has the chance to add a young and hungry prospect with the potential to be a staple for them on the defensive end, Isaac Okoro could hear his name being called early on draft night.
Conclusively, I must admit I am a fan of Isaac Okoro, and I certainly think he has a bright future in the NBA. But let’s not get it twisted; The University of Alabama is and always will be the best school in our state. Roll Tide!