Editor's note: As the Warriors prepare for the 2020 NBA draft, during which they will have a lottery pick for the first time since 2012, NBC Sports Bay Area will present a twice-weekly series spotlighting two players expected to be evaluated. This is the seventh of a 12-part series over a six-week span.
When the Warriors traded Andre Iguodala to the Grizzlies last summer, coach Steve Kerr needed a moment. Maybe two.
He understood the complexities of who Iguodala was, and for a variety of reasons, was closer to him than any other player on the team. Kerr described the move as “a gut punch.”
The Warriors have spent the past nine months scanning the market for someone with similar attributes and come up empty. Now preparing to assemble a roster for the 2020-21 season, they surely know of a young wing at Auburn who is in some ways reminiscent of Iguodala.
Meet Isaac Okoro, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound freshman wing whose athleticism -- 38-inch vertical leap -- and refined defensive mentality have moved him out of mid-first-round projections and into the lottery, where the Warriors currently sit.
In seeking a comparison for Okoro, Iguodala is among the names tossed out by NBA scouts and those who specialize in evaluating college talent. Among the other names are Toronto’s OG Anunoby and, at the top end, Jimmy Butler of the Heat and Kawhi Leonard of the Raptors.
Here is an analysis offered by The Stepien Report, which might be the most comprehensive independent evaluation service: A glue guy on offense ... high IQ ... high-level defensive player on and off the ball ... active hands. Iguodala is mentioned as a comparison.
After leading McEachern High to a 32-0 record as a senior, Okoro entered his freshman season as a four-star prep recruit. He quickly proved capable of making five-star plays, everything from game-winners in the paint (vs. South Alabama) to pivotal 3-balls in the waning minutes (Kentucky) to posterizing dunks (Vanderbilt) to coast-to-coast from rebound on one end to crossover in the middle to rousing dunk at the finish (Alabama).
Despite having a jump shot that needs repair, Okoro finished his freshman season with a 112.8 offensive rating, ranking second in the SEC.
It’s his defense, though, that excites scouts. He was effective at guarding four positions for the Tigers and displayed a distinct feel for activity all across the floor.
The NBA has evolved into a league of wings and every team covets them, particularly those who can contribute on both ends. It’s a position of need for the Warriors, and they’ve made apparent their desire to add young players fitting that role.
Okoro fits. He’s the top small forward in some mock drafts, No. 2 on others.
The biggest knock on him, in addition to his inconsistent jumper, is that he is too deferential on offense. Okoro acknowledges he’s not a big scorer, that he’s more of a utility player on offense, a “Swiss-Army-knife” type capable of providing in several areas.
There is practically no chance Okoro will be the No. 1 overall pick. Not flashy enough on offense. But if the Warriors make a trade to move back a few spots, he’ll be on their radar.
Unlike the previous five springs, when the Warriors were preparing for the playoffs, Kerr has time to evaluate potential draft picks. Asked earlier this month which attributes he focuses on when studying video, Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area earlier that he looks for two-way engagement, defensive fundamentals and willingness to share the ball.
If those qualities seem familiar, it’s because they are. They also match those of a former member of the Warriors, an NBA Finals MVP now on the roster of the Miami Heat.
Isaac Okoro profile
Position: Small forward
Birthdate: Jan. 26, 2001 (19)
Hometown: Powder Springs, Ga.
2019-20 stats: 12.8 points (51.2 percent FG, 28.6 percent 3p, 67.4 percent FT), 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists.
What they’re saying: "He's an NBA player right now, but if he starts to get to the point where he can see it and make it, then he's an NBA All-Star. He's Victor Oladipo times two." – Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, assessing Okoro’s potential with a reliable jump shot.