2022 NBA Draft: What Ochai Agbaji Brings to Cleveland Cavaliers

By John Fanta
FOX College Basketball Sports Writer

The franchise’s best season since then lebron james’ second stay in Clevelandwhich ended in 2018, the Cavaliers entered the NBA A project with an interesting difficulty at number 14.

Would they take an unfinished product and develop it, or would they choose to add a part that helps them win now?

The Cavs responded in emphatic fashion with the latter option, selecting four-year college player, national champion and Kansas All-American superstar Ochai Agbaji.

The 6-foot-5 wing from Kansas City has been a great story, going from being ranked below 300 on recruiting lists out of high school to accepting an offer from the Jayhawks. After three years in college, he was about to be a second-round pick. He then opted to take one final season in Lawrence, developed into a lottery-caliber talent and finished on top with a championship.

Cleveland’s rise from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to an eighth-place finish last season was rooted in defense, and Agbaji fits that philosophy well. The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year is an elite athlete with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and 8-foot-8 reach. Some recruits can be a problem on that end of the floor early on, but Agbaji built up his strength in college and became a -good defender of the ball.

Offensively, Agbaji’s catch-and-shoot ability will provide Cleveland with much-needed help on the wing. He averaged 18.8 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41 percent from 3 last season and will benefit from the transition of Darius Garland, Caris LeVert and Co.

With Cedi Osman and Isaac Okoro, Cleveland had some options on the wing, but now has a player who can more consistently knock down perimeter shots. Agbaji’s progression in this category speaks for itself.

While Agbaji isn’t really a playmaker and doesn’t have a strong pull-up game, that’s clearly not what the Cavs were looking for when they made this pick. Agbaji can roll off the catch and his ability to move off the ball as a cutter is underrated.

More than anything, the Cavs are hoping that as a national champion who just spent four years under Bill Self as a Hall of Fame coach, Agbaji’s knack for making winning plays will show right away.

“I know he fits a need right away and he’s going to compete and he’s got that winning pedigree that we really like,” Cavs president of basketball operations Kobe Altman said after the draft. “He can really shoot. It has a really fast trigger. You can banish it from the screens. You’re talking about a national champion and he brings a skill set that we don’t necessarily have to the table. That skill set will be used, hopefully right away.”

While there’s a draft narrative that a four-year college player who might be a finished product isn’t worth a lottery pick, that’s not where the Cavs stand as an organization. Between Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love and a developing core of players, Cleveland’s goal was to find help on the perimeter for an offense that had become too predictable as the year went on.

Whether Agbaji can beat the narrative and actually develop will depend on what he can provide in the 3-point arc. As teams approach him, he will need to prove he can make things happen off the dribble.

Ophai Agbaji dropped 29 points against Michigan State

Ophai Agbaji dropped 29 points against Michigan State

Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji scored 29 points in a game against the Michigan State Spartans last season.

Beyond all things basketball, for the Cleveland locker room that produced one of the best turnaround stories in the NBA last season, the organization believes Agbaji will fit in well.

“He just fit the character, attitude and work ethic we were looking for,” Altman added. “It’s the first time we’ve picked a national champion right out of the gate and so he carries a lot of accolades, but I think he carries a modesty that we value.”

John Fanta is a national college basketball anchor and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from announcing games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary for The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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