Isaac Okoro will be an NBA lottery pick. Let's rank his 14 possible teams, from best to worst fit.
While some trades could shake up Wednesday's draft order, here are the most likely destinations for the Auburn one-and-done product.
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On Wednesday night, Isaac Okoro will hear his name called in the 2020 NBA Draft. He will officially become the first one-and-done player in Auburn basketball history, and he will be one of just eight Tigers to ever be selected in the first round.
Okoro is almost guaranteed to be taken in the lottery picks, which are given to the 14 teams who did not make the playoffs in the previous season. Only four former Auburn players — Charles Barkley (1984), Chuck Person (1986) and Chris Morris (1988) — have gone inside the first 14 picks of an NBA Draft. There’s a chance that Okoro could join that trio in being taken inside the top five selections.
The 2020 draft class has been one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, which made it easier for Okoro to declare for the draft after a fantastic freshman campaign on the Plains. And, with a college basketball season cut short and a pre-draft process heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, figuring out who is going where is anyone’s guess.
Auburn fans will be keeping a close eye on where Okoro goes Wednesday night, as the selection could determine which NBA team they will adopt or, at the very least, be invested in their results for the foreseeable future.
As a defense-first wing with slashing and playmaking ability — and a jump shot that needs to be improved at the next level — Okoro checks a lot of boxes for lottery teams. However, some landing spots look much better than others on paper.
Based on depth charts, team needs and current draft positions, here are the 14 lottery teams who could take Okoro on Wednesday, ranked from best to worst fit.
(A playoff team could trade up and take Okoro, but that’s less likely than the former Tiger going to a franchise looking to get back into the postseason soon.)
1. Chicago Bulls
Why they should draft Okoro: The consensus for this year’s NBA Draft feels like a top three of La’Melo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman — in some order — then a free-for-all from No. 4 through the rest of the lottery. The Bulls have the No. 4 pick, and this feels like the true start of Okoro’s range. According to Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago, the team has interviewed Okoro recently.
The Bulls have a good amount of scoring already, especially with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Drafting Okoro could give them an immediate fix to their wing depth, and he excels at two of their biggest areas of need — defense and rebounding. Okoro also is an impressive passer for his position, which could help out a team that has guards who serve as scorers more than true ball-handlers. This is a perfect fit for Okoro if the Bulls are willing to take a chance on him.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Some might feel that Okoro is a stretch at No. 4, considering there are bigger, hotter names in this draft class. Israeli-Serbian prospect Deni Avdija checks off a lot of the same boxes as Okoro, and the Bulls now have a front office leader in Arturas Karnisovas who has spent a lot of time in international scouting. Plus, there’s always a chance the Bulls will opt for a defensive big man to help out Carter and Markkanen or a better-shooting wing.
2. Washington Wizards
Why they should draft Okoro: If Okoro is still available at No. 9 overall, the Wizards should take him and run. Washington had one of the worst defenses in NBA history last season, as there were several times in which opponents were able to hang 150-plus points on the scoreboard. Oh, and the Wizards were also dead last in the league in rebounding, too.
The Wizards still have John Wall and Bradley Beal — at least for the moment — and there’s a lot to like about the future of former Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura. On a team with an explosive offense and an abysmal defense, Okoro checks basically every box. He’ll be able to provide an instant impact without having to go beyond his capabilities as a scorer.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: As previously stated, Okoro might not be available at No. 9 overall in this draft. Washington doesn’t have a ton of capital in order to trade up, especially if they’re potentially moving Beal to a playoff team such as the Miami Heat. The Wizards could also use a center, so USC’s Onyeka Okongwu might get the nod here for his own defensive skill set.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Why they should draft Okoro: Another Central division team with an immediate need on the wing, the Cavaliers have gone with two guards who aren’t exactly true playmakers — former SEC players Darius Garland and Collin Sexton — in their post-LeBron rebuild through the draft. Okoro makes sense for the Cavaliers in terms of his defense and potential playmaking ability on the wing.
Cleveland had one of the worst defenses in the NBA last season and could use a versatile lockdown prospect. If the Cavaliers are impressed with Okoro’s passing, he could slide right into a lineup that wants to score through Garland and Sexton. They draft right after the Bulls at No. 5 overall, and there’s a lot to like about this fit on a roster that needs a lot of help at his position. The Cavaliers, along with the Timberwolves and the Warriors, have had confirmed workouts with Okoro.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Avdija is more of the point forward type that the Cavaliers might be looking for in this draft, and teams might fall in love with him as a prospect because of the inevitable comparisons to Luka Doncic. (Such comparisons are overblown, but they’re gonna happen.) Cleveland might want a more consistent outside shooter as well, as it didn’t have much of that last season outside of Love.
4. Sacramento Kings
Why they should draft Okoro: Like some of the teams listed above, Sacramento is another case of a team that has a solid future in the backcourt and the frontcourt but could use additional help on the wing. While Harrison Barnes provides a lot of scoring at small forward, the Kings need a defensive upgrade in that area off the bench.
Okoro could be a versatile sixth man for a team that’s just on the cusp of breaking through and ending their lengthy playoff drought. There’s also a ton of potential in watching Okoro fly down the floor with De’Aaron Fox and annihilating the rim on fast-break opportunities.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: At No. 12 overall, this is toward the tail end of Okoro’s draft range. Like the Spurs, he makes plenty of sense if he is still available here. But that’s not a guarantee, and the Kings could still opt for a bigger, true forward with defensive upside in this draft slot.
5. San Antonio Spurs
Why they should draft Okoro: The Spurs are getting old on the wing and in the frontcourt, so they will most likely look to the future with this draft. Okoro has an extremely high basketball IQ, especially on defense, that the Spurs’ coaching staff and front office should love. The younger backcourt led by Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, plus other veterans such as Lamarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, would take a lot of scoring pressure off of Okoro early.
Then there’s the tradition of Gregg Popovich teams taking extremely athletic, often underrated players and turning them into superweapons after helping them develop their shooting. And it just so happens that Okoro’s top comparison on KenPom is… Kawhi Leonard. It just makes perfect sense.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Again, Okoro might not make it all the way down to No. 11 in this draft. The Spurs could trade up for him — which would be a terrifying sight to 29 other front offices in the NBA — but that is less likely to happen than them staying put and taking a player they loved in scouting.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors (tie)
Why they should draft Okoro: Both teams, picking at No. 1 and No. 2 overall in this draft, have perfectly made roles for Okoro on their current rosters. Minnesota has franchise centerpieces who can score at will but seem quite disinterested on defense. If the Timberwolves want to plug in a defensive stopper next to their key players, Okoro is the man.
Then there are the Warriors. Bruce Pearl has compared Okoro to Andre Iguodala, who was a fantastic defensive wing who moved the ball well and attacked the rim as a sixth man on Golden State’s championship teams. The Warriors definitely don’t need more shooters at the front of their rotation. Okoro would be an ideal role player right away with potential to blossom into a star in time next to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Okoro going at No. 1 or No. 2 is next to impossible, and these two teams most likely won’t trade their picks unless they can make blockbuster deals or just swap with the Hornets at No. 3 — more on them later. Wiseman also makes plenty of sense for the Warriors’ roster at No. 2 overall. Unless someone in the middle of the lottery trades for one of these top two picks, it’s hard to see Okoro landing in Minnesota or the Bay Area.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Why they should draft Okoro: The Hawks are, once again, one of the worst defensive teams in basketball. They drafted 3-and-D wings in Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, who did not make a ton of impact in Year 1. They’ve got some major offensive firepower in Trae Young and John Collins, so Okoro won’t have to come in and light it up early in his NBA career.
Atlanta could also use some help on the wing in terms of passing, as it doesn’t have a lot of solid distributors outside of Young. At No. 6 overall, the Hawks are squarely in Okoro’s expected draft range and have interviewed him. He’s also an Atlanta native, so this pick would make a ton of sense from a marketing and general feel-good storyline perspective.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Let’s turn this part over to good friend of the Observer and Hawks fan Jerry Hinnen, who wrote extensively on this subject at The War Eagle Reader. Here’s an excerpt:
On the offensive end, Okoro’s a poor fit for the Hawks and doesn’t help their greatest need; on the defensive end, he largely replicates the role and skillset of a player already on the roster Atlanta acquired at sizable cost. And yet there’s still an argument for the Hawks to select him, such is his upside not only as a defender but as a secondary, weakside ballhandler — another notable weakness for the Hawks last season, and one where I’d expect Okoro to outperform Hunter (and Reddish) in time.
But I can’t endorse that argument when there’s a player likely available to the Hawks who would upgrade the Hawks’ secondary ballhandling even further and ranked in the 99th percentile as a spot-up shooter and is an excellent off-ball defender who racked up steals and blocks at sensational rates and could soak up minutes as the Hawks’ backup point guard, another painful sore spot for the current roster and isn’t, you know, another 3. That player is Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, who I think the Hawks should select if given the opportunity.
9. Boston Celtics
Why they should draft Okoro: The Celtics are picking in the lottery this season via a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, and there are a ton of different directions that they could go here. More help on the wing could be a priority in this draft, given Gordon Heyward’s uncertain future.
At the minimum, Okoro could boost the Celtics’ depth at small forward. With Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum all under contract, Boston doesn’t necessarily need a ball-dominant scorer. Okoro would do a lot of the dirty work that Boston would like to see in Brad Stevens’ system, and there’s a good chance he would be able to develop a good outside shot down the road.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Boston is reportedly interested in Okoro, but there’s a question if he will be available at No. 14 overall in this draft. Trading up for Okoro is a possibility, although there is a question of how many assets the Celtics will have to make such a move. Also, Boston desperately needs a center — perhaps even more so than a wing — after getting torched at that position by the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
10. Detroit Pistons
Why they should draft Okoro: Detroit does not have many players who are good at basketball. Isaac Okoro is good at basketball.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: At No. 7 overall and in a crippling need for star power during the midst of a bleak rebuild, Okoro might not be the appealing offensive pick that Detroit will want. The lottery was not kind to the Pistons, who were not one of the teams Okoro said he’s had an official interview with in this process.
11. Phoenix Suns
Why they should draft Okoro: The Suns made a move for Chris Paul on Monday, solving its point guard problem next to Devin Booker. That means Phoenix is pretty open on where it could go at No. 10 overall in this draft, and defense is always a need for a team that missed the playoffs last season.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Shooting will probably be a priority for Phoenix when looking at any wing in this draft class, given its recent history. That’s not Okoro’s strength, and Mikal Bridges is already flashing plenty of defensive upside at the small forward position for this roster. The Suns have interviewed Okoro but most likely would look elsewhere.
12. New Orleans Pelicans
Why they should draft Okoro: Putting an athletic young talent like Okoro on a team that has the likes of Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram would be extremely fun to watch. Jrue Holiday looks to be on the move for Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, but it still would be tough for teams to score on a Okoro-Williamson rotation in a Stan Van Gundy system. If Okoro is still available all the way down at No. 13 in the draft, he would definitely be in “best available player” range.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Pelicans fans might lose their collective minds if they add another player who isn’t a consistent shooter from deep. Okoro is smart enough to space the floor well, but the threat from downtown would be minimal in a lineup that also had Ball and Williamson on the floor. Ingram is going to get a ton of deserved minutes at small forward, too. This is a long shot.
13. New York Knicks
Why they should draft Okoro: Like the Pistons, the Knicks need good basketball players. Mo Harkless and Reggie Bullock were getting minutes at small forward for the Knicks last season, so it’s not like there are plenty of people in his way. Also, Auburn fans would love to see a Jared Harper-Isaac Okoro team — even though it would be devastating to see anyone hop on the Knicks bandwagon.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: New York’s two top pieces at the moment are RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Neither are particularly good at shooting from deep, and the Knicks have had issues in recent seasons with being unable to space the floor like a modern NBA offense. Okoro doesn’t help there or at point guard — which will likely be a top priority in this draft, whether the Knicks stay at No. 8 or move up.
14. Charlotte Hornets
Why they should draft Okoro: Defense, defense, defense. The Hornets are not good at it right now, and Okoro would be an instant boost in that area. But that’s… pretty much it.
Why they won’t draft Okoro: Let’s see: They are only one of two teams in the top 11 of the draft that haven’t worked Okoro out or interviewed him, as of last week. They are the least likely to trade back from the Ball-Edwards-Wiseman trio inside the top three, due to their lack of star power at guard and center. On top of that, Miles Bridges is going to make getting small forward minutes quite difficult for Okoro early in his career. Even in an unpredictable draft, Charlotte taking Okoro on Wednesday night would be shocking.
Up next on The Auburn Observer: Subscribers will get a new football story Wednesday on the Tigers’ upcoming matchup against Tennessee. On Thursday, we’ll preview that game in our weekly premium podcast.