With the 2022 NBA Draft less than a month away, the Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping to make their mark.
This year, the Cavaliers have three picks: a lottery pick at No. 14 and a pair of second-round picks at No. 39 and 56. Cleveland can use those picks to fill its roster needs, such as B. to add another wing goalscorer. One of the names being discussed as a possible option for the Cavs at No. 14 is Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji.
To answer some questions about the Jayhawks guard and learn more about who Agbaji is as a player, the athlete‘s CJ Moore – who covers Kansas – joined us for a chat. Watch part two of our conversation about Kansas Wing Christian Braun next week.
Ochai Agbaji | 6-6 wings | 22 years old
13.5 PPG | 4.4 Roleplay | 1.6 AST | 44.8 FW% | 37.3 3PT% | 71.4FT%
Kelsey Russo: Thank you again for taking the time to do this. CJ The Cavs are in an interesting position this offseason with their draft picks, particularly at No. 14, the last pick in the lottery. How would you describe Agbaji to a Cavs fan?
CJ Moore: Agbaji fits as a 3 and D wing. Up until this past season, he was never a guy who could get much out of the jump. He’s improved drastically in this area, but his greatest strength is still catch-and-shoot three-pointers. He pulls them off quickly and resetting to the NBA 3-point line shouldn’t be a problem. He probably won’t be a top scorer at the NBA level, but he’ll be a guy who can come off every now and then when he’s hot. When he’s really cooking, he’s doing 3s as effortlessly as layups.
His grip is strong enough now that he’s much better at attacking a closeout. He’s also really good at turning the corner off a pindown when his defender is baiting and running after.
Agbaji developed a great sense of reading those screens and knowing when to stop shooting or curl towards the basket. When he decides to turn the corner, not many guys have a breakout like him. He was also one of the top praise threats in the country. If it was anywhere near the basket, he would get it.
Agbaji will do as well as anyone in any draft when it comes to character. Both of his parents played college basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and never admitted a claim. Everyone in KU’s program loved Agbaji because he took care of all the right things and treated everyone with respect. He’ll immediately find the veterans on the team drafting him and envision how he can thrive in this city and in the NBA. He got a head start last offseason when he spent time with Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who immediately became a huge Agbaji fan.
Russo: They wrote a great feature about Agbaji earlier this year (check it out here if you haven’t read it yet). How do you think Agbaji’s decision to return to Kansas last year, followed by his 2021-22 season with the Jayhawks, best prepared him for the NBA and helped him grow on and off the court? Agabji, at 22, is on the older side of other draft prospects.
Moore: Agbaji took feedback from a year ago, mostly that he needed to show he could be a dominant collegiate player and improve his ability to make plays from the jump, and he put the work into making himself an All-American and choose to make first-round players. His game is much smoother than it was a year ago. For the first few months of the season, I kept saying, “He never would have done that before,” over and over. He is now able to do things that I could never have imagined before. An example: a behind-the-back dribble in transition to bypass a defender. During his freshman season, he was lost running from the 3-point line. The numbers were alarming. On spot-up opportunities this season, he ended 27 games when he was run off the 3-point line. He was fouled twice and scored only twice on the other 22 attempts.
As a senior, Agbaji confidently planted the ball on the ground. He’s worked hard to get there and NBA coach Phil Beckner has really helped him develop the mental side of his game. A great example was the NCAA tournament when Agbaji was suffering from a shooting weakness. He never seemed to let it affect the rest of his game and he stayed positive. After going 2-of-12 of 3 in the first three games, he made both 3s in the Elite Eight against Miami and then set a Final Four record by nailing 5 of 6 tries against Villanova. This kind of shot display was a prime example of how his 3-ball can completely change a game.
Russo: Do you think Agbaji has the ability to evolve his gameplay and shot creation? If so, what about his time in Kansas makes you think he can develop those two aspects of his game?
Moore: One mistake talent evaluators used to make was assuming that a man at 22 is pretty much a finished product. It turns out guys in their 20s can still get better. Agbaji has always had the athleticism, but he has been a late bloomer when it comes to skill of the game. He’s improved tremendously over the past season and it would be foolish to assume that he won’t continue to improve in areas where he had gotten much better a year ago.
That’s why Beckner and Lillard loved him so much. He just wants to learn and improve so much that he will do whatever it takes. Again, I’m not sure he’ll ever be a main creator, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he made me look stupid there either. He’s now doing enough in the shot creation department to have a counterattack if someone runs him off the line. His pull-up game is solid and he’s gotten a more diverse finishing package from working with Beckner. He won’t be someone to play isolation games against, but Kansas did run games for him where he would get the ball out of motion — see the pindown above, for example.
Russo: During the 2021-22 season, the Cavs built their identity around their defense, particularly when utilizing their three-man lineup. But they have also relied on defense from Isaac Okoro on the wing or Lamar Stevens. How do you rate Agbaji as a defender?
Moore: This is another area where his confidence grew and he began to see what he could make a difference because of his athletic ability. Even if he doesn’t score, his defense could keep him grounded. An example from the tournament was the Sweet 16 against Providence, when he had a season-low five points but made a big impact on the defensive end, finishing with two steals and four blocks.
Agbaji’s mindset offensively was different from his first game as a senior. He seemed to have figured out he could be a dominant scorer at the college level, and his team needed that from him. But his defensive confidence seemed to grow as the year progressed. He made fewer mistakes and also realized he could change games that end. He tends to fall asleep off the ball and occasionally gets a back cut, but he’s such a fast athlete that he can sometimes recover in those moments. He will also take the time to scout out reports and ask questions. His confidence and willingness to admit when he needs help is a reason to count on Agbaji. His pride will never stand in his way.
(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)