2022 NBA Draft: Ochai Agbaji could help Cleveland Cavaliers immediately

CLEVELAND, Ohio — For the first time since 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers did not select a top five in the NBA draft. If a team holds number 14—the lottery’s final pick—they have no control over the outcome. There’s no Evan Mobley or Darius Garland coming. It’s not a small pool of prospects to choose from this year. Sources tell cleveland.com that the front office has about 10 players on its first-round radar and is trying to identify the best combination of talent and suitability.

The countdown is running. June 23rd is getting closer and closer.

In the days leading up to the draft, cleveland.com will be investigating a handful of prospects who could realistically be in play for the Cavs in their expected area.

Next up: swingman Ochai Agbaji from Kansas.

Bio:

Statistics 2021-22: 18.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.6 assists, 47.5% FG, 40.1% 3P, 74.3% FT

Age: 22

Height: 6-5 ¾

Weight: 217

Span: 6-10 ¼

Position: Shooting guard/small forward

things to know:

In his blood – Agbaji grew up in Milwaukee, Wisc, where his parents played college hoops at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When he moved to the Kansas City area and attended Oak Park High School, he flew under the radar, barely cracking the consensus of the top 200 prospects in the high school class of 2018. ESPN’s recruiting service considered him a three -star prospects. With little interest until Kansas made an offer, Agbaji signed with the Jayhawks. Originally expected to go redshirt as a freshman, some players who left the program allowed Agbaji to take on a bigger role.

Test the water — During his time in Kansas, Agbaji steadily improved every year, declared for the 2021 NBA draft, participated in the combine, received feedback on his draft positioning, took it to heart, and returned to Kansas for his senior campaign. There were high expectations for Agabji upon his return. He topped them all, was named Big 12 Player of the Year, was named a Consensus First-Team All-American, and led the Jayhawks to their first NCAA championship since 2008. He capped an unlikely career as an NCAA standout last four. This exceptional senior year propelled Agbaji from second-round pick into the lottery talk.

Notable Training Partner — Occasionally, Agbaji works with Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard. So what’s the connection? Phil Beckner, who was Lillard’s college coach and now serves as coach, worked with Agbaji during the preliminary draft process.

In the numbers — There’s something to be said about a player who improves every season. While some of that can be attributed to a larger role, it’s hard to ignore a rise from 8.5 points as a freshman to 18.8 at the end of his college career. His 3-point shooting also continued to increase, going from 30.7% on 3.4 attempts as a first to 40.7% on 6.5 attempts as a senior.

Last season, Agbaji averaged 1.27 points per catch-and-shoot jumper, which is in the 94th percentile. He also displayed the ability to smoothly rise off screens and dribble handoffs. Complementing his savvy outside play, Agbaji utilized his power and athleticism when he had a clear path to the rim, averaging 1.45 points per shot around the rim in halffield (94th percentile).

About the fit:

Is it possible that we are all thinking about the 14th election? Among other things, the Cavs covet a two-way wing that can shoot from the outside. This is Agbaji. Agbaji is adept at catch-and-shoot situations, does not need to hijack offensive possessions, and is powerful and athletic (4th highest vertical jump) in transition. Agbaji is a plug-and-play 3-and-D wing – the archetype missing from the roster that needed to succeed in this era. While he’s a little smaller than desired to play full-time at the 3, his toughness and 6ft 10 wingspan might make up for that.

Agbaji’s age and experience keeps him further down the development curve, lacking the kind of upside potential and future star power that some of his other classmates possess. But he’s also honed and mature enough — physically and mentally — to bring rookie minutes to a team looking to take another step forward and make the playoffs. Plus, his apparent weaknesses — a lack of shot creation and an inability to reach the free-throw line — may not be as damaging (if he stays in the restricted free hand) with All-Star Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, and Collin Sexton. Perhaps Ricky Rubio (mutual interest in a reunion remains) and Evan Mobley (his offensive role is expected to expand) will serve as the primary initiators in the upcoming season.

Perhaps Agbaji – who has trained for the Cavs and would likely project off the bench as a sniper unless he takes the starting gig from someone at training camp – is rightly viewed as a high-floor, low-ceilinged player. Or maybe he’s just a late bloomer. After all, he’s already gone from unheralded recruit to NCAA champion and Kansas’ top player. Regardless of his individual cap, Agbaji’s shooting skills would help improve on Cleveland’s.

It’s not exciting, but it’s needed.

What you say:

Agbaji when asked who he emulates his game – “A great example would be Desmond Bane. I played against him when I was a freshman and sophomore. Have similar games. Athletic, larger wing capable of defending and deflecting shots. I watch his game and see my game in his game too.”

Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report, NBA Draft Analyst – “Not very creative. But a 3-and-D type that can be used immediately for beginner minutes. If you’re a rebuilding team in the lottery, you have no interest in Agbaji. He reminds me of Quentin Grimes, who is kind of a steal for the Knicks, despite having no creation. He’s pretty much a catch and shoot guy, making good decisions and defending your position. That’s kind of how I see Agbaji. He can help a team like Cleveland right away and will be useful from day one. Will he get much better in year 3 or year 4? He will probably be the same player he is as a rookie. But this rookie is useful.”

NBA manager — “Perfect shooter. But probably the best in the late lottery range. He’s also a fantastic finisher. Won’t make many mistakes. His photographs create natural space. If his defense translates from Kansas, you have a two-way wing ready to launch.”

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