Isaac Okoro, the Auburn small-forward defensive specialist, would seem just what Dr. Thibodeau ordered. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to change the franchise’s culture to one that
Isaac Okoro, the Auburn small-forward defensive specialist, would seem just what Dr. Thibodeau ordered.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to change the franchise’s culture to one that emphasizes winning and defense. And Okoro says that’s all he knows.
Okoro, who has interviewed with Knicks brass ahead of Wednesday’s draft, says he’s tried to tell teams he will “bring in a winning culture.’’ By all accounts, Okoro shapes up as the draft’s best perimeter defender.
“Being a two-way player, stopping the best team’s player and going out on the offensive end and contributing,’’ Okoro said of his attributes during a Zoom call. “I feel like what separates me from everyone else in the draft is my will to win and [being] willing to do anything to help the team win, coming in and playing my role and being a defensive player.’’
The Knicks will select at No. 8 and Okoro remains on the radar with the club potentially passing on a point guard.
Okoro and Devin Vassell, a 3-and-D wing, are both players the Knicks like a lot.
Vassell is the better 3-point shooter. Okoro is the better defender. Interestingly, the Knicks were in Atlanta working out Vassell last month but didn’t work out Okoro at Auburn.
Point guards Killian Hayes and Kira Lewis Jr. are also a consideration and The Post has reported multiple times Knicks president Leon Rose ultimately prefers to trade back and pick up an asset in a parity-ridden draft.
Question marks abound over Okoro’s outside shooting in a league that has never emphasized the 3-point shot more than now.
The Knicks’ concern about Okoro is whether his ceiling is that of just a solid role player. ESPN’s draft maven Seth Greenberg, though, has compared Okoro to Jaylen Brown.
And Thibodeau could see in him the next Jimmy Butler, his former player in Chicago and Minnesota whose defense and intangibles always shined over his 3-point marksmanship.
In workouts with teams, Okoro feels he dispelled the offensive concerns.
“During the college season [my shot] was a C-plus,’’ Okoro said. “I think right now, working every day, putting up a lot of shots, it’s around a B-plus [to an] A. I’m taking more time with my jump shot, learning how to get the ball higher. During the college season I shot a lot of flat balls, but I’m learning to get a higher arc on it.
“I feel like [teams] came in thinking offense was one of my weaknesses. But they left knowing that was one of my strengths.’’
Okoro, 19, has arrived daily at the Auburn gym at 6 a.m. for drills and says he’s worked on ballhandling and shooting. He’s also played 5-on-5 pickup games with former Auburn teammates.
In his one-and-done season, Okoro averaged 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He shot 51.4 percent but only 28.6 percent from 3.
Okoro realizes his defense is still his claim to fame.
“That’s what every team liked about me — having that defensive presence,’’ Okoro said. “Coming in and having that defensive presence and [being] willing to guard another team’s best player and shutting them down.
“I feel like coming to the NBA you have to learn the pace of the NBA,’’ Okoro added. “It’s the biggest challenge. But my first step in the NBA, it’s just playing defense — something I’m going to be good at already.’’