Jan 11, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; San Antonio Spurs draft prospect Isaac Okoro (23) reacts after a dunk on the Georgia Bulldogs during the second half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs should think about trading up for Isaac Okoro
Buckle in San Antonio Spurs fans, we’re rapidly approaching one of the most exciting moments of the NBA offseason. The NBA Draft will be here before you know it and the Spurs are in a better position than usual to add a talented young player to their already impressive core group of guys.
After an incredibly underwhelming season, the Spurs are finally going to get their reward. Picking 11th in the draft, the Spurs are going to have their highest pick since they drafted Tim Duncan with the first overall pick all the way back in 1997.
There’s a lot of pressure on San Antonio as they head into this year’s draft. They’ve done a phenomenal job nailing their late-round picks over the past few years but will they be able to keep that trend going now that they’re back in the lottery?
One of the prospects that could fit best with the Spurs is Auburn’s Isaac Okoro. Okoro is predicted by many to be among the first ten players off the board. If San Antonio is dead set on adding him to their team they’ll likely have to move up to get him. Here’s why they should consider making a move to make sure he’s their guy.
Next: A proven defender
Mar 4, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; San Antonio Spurs draft prospect Isaac Okoro (23) pressures Texas A&M Aggies guard Jay Jay Chandler (1) during the first half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Isaac Okoro will instantly elevate the San Antonio Spurs defense
If you watched the Spurs for even a single game last year one of the things that likely stood out was the team’s incredibly lackluster defense. You don’t give up two losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers by being a lockdown defensive team but even those two ugly L’s don’t paint the full picture of the team’s defensive ineptitude.
San Antonio regularly rolled out one of the worst defenders in the league as their starting shooting guard. The results showed up in the advanced stats as the team finished the year giving up 113.5 points per 100 possessions, the single worst mark in franchise history.
We’ve heavily praised the impact that Devin Vassell could have on the Spurs defense but it’s Okoro who is the best defensive prospect in this draft. Even if the other parts of his game never pan out he will likely still finish his career as a starter on any team that he plays for based on his defensive impact alone.
He made the All-SEC and All-SEC Defensive Team’s in his lone season with the Tigers based on his defensive efforts. Averaging 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes, Okoro can impact the game in all sorts of different ways on the defensive end of the floor.
Standing 6’6 with a 6’9 wingspan, Okoro would give the Spurs an excellent defensive-minded wing to pair with Keldon Johnson. With teams like the Clippers and Celtics loading up on dangerous wings, other potential contenders around the league need players who can counter the bevy of scoring minded wings emerging around the league. Okoro could fill exactly that kind of role in San Antonio.
Next: A strong slasher and shot creator
Feb 1, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers forward Isaac Okoro (23) passes the ball as Kentucky Wildcats forward Nate Sestina (1) applies pressure during the second half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Isaac Okoro would help build out a multi-dimensional San Antonio Spurs attack
Okoro’s defense is what makes him an incredibly attractive draft prospect but it’s not the only part of his game that deserves attention. He brings plenty on the offensive end of the floor as well.
Many perimeter prospects we’ve identified as potential fits for San Antonio have been able to space the floor and knock down open three’s. Okoro won’t do that but he’s still got parts of his offensive game that could help the Spurs out right away.
He won’t hit three’s at an elite level like Vassell or Aaron Nesmith but Okoro will relentlessly attack the rim much like Keldon does. He’s a strong finisher with either hand and isn’t afraid to throw himself into traffic.
He’s a strong rebounder and has shown an ability to find his teammates on the break and in half-court sets. He has some potential as a shot creator in him that might just take a little time to be unlocked.
The Spurs were able to unleash a much more potent offense in Orlando by driving and kicking and driving and kicking until something opened up on the perimeter or near the rim. Okoro won’t be the guy knocking down shots off outlet passes, at least not right away, but he’s more than capable of attacking the rim at an elite level and making the right passes to open teammates on the perimeter.
Next: There's plenty of unlocked potential
Auburn forward Isaac Okoro (23) high five fans at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala., on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Auburn defeated Vanderbilt 83-79.Jc Auburnvandy 31
San Antonio Spurs should be intrigued by what Isaac Okoro can’t do….yet
At the very worst, Isaac Okoro should have a long career in the NBA as a slasher and strong defender. That’s literally the absolute bottom of his potential. His ceiling is much, much higher than that.
To be frank, he’s not a good outside shooter right now. He only hit on 29 percent of his 3-point shots during his freshman year and his 67 percent rate from the charity stripe doesn’t offer too much optimism that he’s going to improve significantly at the next level.
I hate to make such lofty comparisons for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet but Kawhi Leonard didn’t come into the league as an outstanding outside shooter either.
In his two years at San Diego State, he connected on 25 percent of his 3-point attempts and 74 percent of his free-throw attempts. By the time he left the Spurs he was hitting on well over 40 percent of his long-range shots and was approaching a 90 percent rate from the charity stripe.
To be very clear, this isn’t saying that Okoro is going to follow the same kind of developmental path that Kawhi did. But if there is a team in the NBA that has proven time and time again that they can bring the hidden parts out of a players’ game it’s the San Antonio Spurs.
His floor is about as high as it comes in this class but the Spurs should trust in their own development program to bring the best out of Okoro. Who knows, in a few years maybe they could turn him into an All-Star as they did with Leonard.
Isaac Okoro is far from a finished product but what he can bring right away makes him the kind of player that the San Antonio Spurs should absolutely consider trading up for.