Cavaliers choose forward from Auburn
The Cavaliers haven’t gotten consistent production at small forward since LeBron James left in free agency for the Lakers two years ago.
Cleveland also hasn’t made the playoffs without James on its roster since 1998.
Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro is eager to change that after being chosen with the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft Wednesday night.
“I feel like I can play and fit in with this team right away, just by running the floor and getting buckets,” Okoro said. “My attacking the rim ability, forcing mismatches and also my playmaking ability, being able to find open teammates get them shots.
“But my goal for this year is to help the Cavaliers get back to the playoffs. Just do anything I can to help us win and get back to the playoffs.”
The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder was widely considered the top defensive swingman available and joins a frontcourt that features two former All-Stars in center Andre Drummond and power forward Kevin Love.
Okoro averaged 12.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in his lone season with the Tigers, starting all 28 games as a freshman. The 19-year-old Powder Springs, Georgia, native shot .514 from the field and .672 from the foul line, but is best known for his one-on-one defensive skills on the wing.
“I’m looking forward to guarding the best players on every team,” Okoro said. “I feel like I am the best defensive player in the draft.”
Okoro is the Cavaliers’ third straight lottery pick since James departed for the second time, leaving a hole at the position that Cedi Osman has been unable to effectively fill.
Cleveland chose shooting guard Collin Sexton eighth overall in 2018 and point guard Darius Garland fifth in 2019.
The Cavaliers finished this season with the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 19-46 and were one of eight teams excluded from the league’s regular season restart in Orlando. They allowed the highest opposing field goal percentage in the NBA in each of the last two seasons, including .491 this season.
“I can take that challenge by guarding the other team’s best player and help our guards by shutting down their offense,” said Okoro, who is the son of Nigerian immigrants. “And it will be great to play alongside Kevin Love and Andre Drummond because they’re veterans. Going in there, getting their advice, I feel like it’s going to help me out.”
Okoro will earn $6.4 million as a rookie as part of a four-year contract worth up to $28.6 million, as specified in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.