For the last four months, I have spent a lot of time watching a lot of bad NBA basketball. But the reward of watching basketball is being able to watch both Chuma Okeke and Isaac Okoro play their rookie seasons for their respective teams. There’s been some frustrating nights to say the least but both players have seen their roles increase as the season has rolled along and they continue to get more comfortable in the NBA. Finally, as the season has 11 games left for each, tonight is the game I’ve been waiting for all season.
Chuma Okeke and the Orlando Magic (18-43) will face Isaac Okoro and the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-40) in Cleveland this evening at 6PM CT.
Both teams are heading for the lottery at this point and have seen their rosters transformed/torn apart due to trades and injuries throughout the season. These two teams played in Orlando twice in January but Okeke missed all of January due to a knee injury. So tonight, two Atlanta area kids that saw their draft stock go through the roof while at Auburn, will finally play on the same court tonight.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a pair of former Auburn players play against each other in a NBA game. The last time Auburn players opposed one another (and both played in the game) was March 10, 2013 when Toney Douglas, playing for the Sacramento Kings, took on Marquis Daniels and the Milwaukee Bucks.
So while we’re here, let’s take this opportunity before tonight’s contest to look at how these guys are doing in their first full season in the NBA.
Chuma, as well documented, missed all of last year recovering from the torn ACL suffered in the Sweet 16 win over UNC back in 2019. Chuma started the season coming off the bench and played about 12-16 minutes in a lot of those early contests. But the trade deadline on March 25 saw the Magic part ways with Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and others giving Chuma a chance to enter the starting lineup where he’s been ever since the deadline.
Chuma has played in 44 games this season for Orlando and here are his season averages:
46-134 from 3 (34.3%)
Okeke entered the starting lineup the day before the trade deadline, March 24th, and his numbers have risen significantly since then.
In the last 17 games, beginning March 24th, Chuma is averaging:
24-70 from 3 (34.3%)
Okeke’s career high came March 26th when he had 22 points and 6 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers. He has meshed very well with former AAU teammate Wendell Carter Jr. who came over in the Vucevic trade from the Chicago Bulls. With Okeke, Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz, Johnathan Isaac and a high draft pick, the young group could do some damage next season, if they stay healthy. Here’s a few highlights so far from this season for Chuma:
This dunk on Andre Drummond from Monday night reminded me of one he had back at Auburn 2 years ago....
Last one: we interrupt this Tennessee talk for CHUMA OKEKE THROW IT DOWN ONE TIME!!! pic.twitter.com/sCdw6NMeIq— Jaylin Williams Fan Account (@ShootyHoopsWill) January 14, 2019
As for Isaac Okoro, he has been in the starting lineup all season long and has logged the most minutes by a rookie this season. Isaac as we all know is known for his defense and he’s gone up against the best the world has to offer in his rookie season with the Cavs.
As a rookie, Isaac Okoro has spent 20+ possessions guarding each of:— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) April 17, 2021
LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Trae Young, Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Donovan Mitchell
Isaac has played in 56 of Cleveland’s 61 games this year and leads the team in games played this season. Here are Isaac’s averages on the season:
47-162 from 3 (29%)
Isaac comes into tonight’s game off a team leading and career high 20 points against the Toronto Raptors. His 3-point shooting is still a work in progress as evidenced by the statistics above but considering his defensive assignments night in and night out, Isaac has done well for himself this season. Isaac has played primarily at the 2 and 3 this season and it will be interesting to see where Cleveland goes this offseason. They have a pair of guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland along with forward Jarrett Allen that along with Okoro provide a solid core into the future. Maybe the Cavs get some assets and more draft picks for Kevin Love and others and the Cavs should have a high draft pick of their own as well. Here are some highlights from Isaac’s season so far:
Really good segment from Isaac Okoro, a bucket on one end, and then great defense on Jaylen Brown forces a turnover. pic.twitter.com/KCE5E54Rhm— Jaylin Williams Fan Account (@ShootyHoopsWill) March 18, 2021
Isaac Okoro just put Jayson Tatum on a poster pic.twitter.com/fMdgpT2m9q— Jaylin Williams Fan Account (@ShootyHoopsWill) March 18, 2021
The future is very bright for both of these guys and they will soon be joined by Sharife Cooper and others in the NBA. I’m also hopeful that Jared Harper will get an opportunity to play more somewhere else either at the end of this season or next season. All in all, we’re about to have a handful of Auburn guys playing in the NBA and if that doesn’t speak volumes to the job Bruce Pearl has done since arriving on the Plains in 2014, I don’t know what will.