Isaac Okoro is a special defensive prospect hiding in plain sight


Isaac Okoro is invisible.

His name is absent from ESPN’s recent 2020 mock draft. Mainstream draft discourse hasn’t seemed to discover the Auburn freshman yet. Per the Recruiting Service Consensus Index, 36 incoming freshmen are better at basketball than the Atlanta native.

All it takes is a cursory glance of Okoro on tape to notice that something’s wrong here. Invisible is the furthest thing from an accurate descriptor of Isaac Okoro, a prospect who does nothing but stand out. Entirely separate from his basketball ability, the man is a mountain:

Okoro doesn’t look the part of a star. He isn’t a prolific shooter, he lacks a twitchy handle and he won’t create a high volume of shots for himself. However, he makes up for those deficiencies with smothering defense both on and off of the ball, elite athleticism, coordination, strength and quick decision making.

Isaac Okoro is a rare, multi-dimensional defensive prospect with versatility to defend multiple positions and team defensive ability to add exponentially positive value off of the ball. As seen in the image above, Isaac Okoro is a massive human being. He stands 6-foot-6 with a reported 6-foot-8.5 wingspan, his strength helps him stand out from other prospects, especially other 18-year-olds. Strength is a vital trait for high-level defenders and Okoro’s strength helps him stymie drives and guard players larger than him.

That strength combined with his lateral agility and light feet for his size makes Okoro and imposing point-of-attack defender. He has little trouble sliding around screens and sticking with all varieties of ballhandlers. He shut down 2020 top recruit BJ Boston in this matchup:

Cerebral team defense is equally as important, if not more important than on-ball defense and Okoro excels here too. His instincts and anticipation off of the ball are preternatural; he’s constantly scanning and pouncing as a help defender on loose balls and lazy passes for steals and blocks. During his final EYBL season, Okoro posted 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. He’s constantly making high-feel plays, which are paramount to team success yet so undervalued. Okoro swoops in from the weak side to break up entry passes, slips into passing lanes for pick-sixes:

Along with these savant-level instincts, Okoro’s rare athletic tools boost the effectiveness of his team defense. Aside from his Atlas-esque strength, he is lightning quick off of his feet, fast up the floor and has the coordination to run like a small guard despite being the behemoth he is.

Because of the aforementioned traits, Okoro is a special interior defender for a wing prospect, which will allow him to slide up positions defensively. With girth to bang inside and rim protection instincts and the vertical explosion to sky for blocks and contests, Okoro is versatile like few other wing prospects:

Okoro’s offensive repertoire is unpolished at this point in his career. Okoro’s outside jumper is a work in progress, as he shot 64 percent from the free-throw line on 1.8 attempts per game in EYBL, with average or below-average touch around the rim. Playing in Bruce Pearl’s system at Auburn predicated on pace and floor spacing, a volume uptick is likely for Okoro. With his IQ, physical tools and well rounded statistical profile, Okoro is a candidate to develop a passable 3-point shot at some point in the near future.

Not much of a creator, Okoro is stiff with the ball in his hands, lacking a twitchy handle or slashing craft. Without a plus handle, balance/pace on his drives or creative footwork, Okoro often drives himself into the abyss:

To make up for his lack of skill, Okoro wins with his physical and athletic tools and IQ, much like his defense. In the last clip above, notice how easily Okoro moves his defender backward before losing the ball. On his drives, Okoro often resorts to overpowering defenders with pure strength. At this level that tactic is effective and his combination of strength and solid burst should have him a frequent visitor of the paint at the college level at least:

Okoro is a menace in transition, with speed and fluidity to streak down the floor and the bounce to rise up and slam home monster dunks. Just how quickly he gets off of the ground is a marvel:

Okoro’s defensive feel translates to the offensive side of the ball in the form of off-ball playmaking and decision making. Without much of a scoring threat, he adds passing value playing off of creators and making quick, smart decisions in the instances he does create for himself. He has the IQ and vision to survey defenses from a multitude of situations and make good decisions playing off of help defense:

A defense-first wing prospect, Okoro will likely always be underrated by traditional scouting processes which value volume scoring over all else. The key for Okoro will be developing his 3-point shot, as one reliable scoring threat is all he’ll need for his role as an off-ball forward, especially considering he already is an advanced decision-maker. Despite traditional scouting’s undervaluation of defense, Okoro is too special of a defensive prospect to go unnoticed. As he stars at Auburn, expect him to rise up draft boards as the season progresses.

Next: Meet the 2019 NBA 25-under-25

I’m not sure Okoro is going to enter the draft after his freshman season. Starting as low as he is on the mainstream draft radar and with top recruit Sharife Cooper joining him in Auburn in 2020, he might want to stay home and chase a national title. With a substantial 3-point improvement, Okoro’s package of special defense and IQ is enough to classify him as a top-five prospect if he were to enter the 2020 draft.



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