Michael Okauru Takes Defensive Excellence Into Sophomore Season

Considered the 260th best player in the 2017 recruiting class, guard Michael Okauru decided on Florida over Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Pittsburgh. When the Gators landed Okauru they thought they were getting a responsible defensive guard, a player that was willing to get his hands dirty and do anything in takes to get him team a win. As a freshman, Okauru did all that and more as in addition to the defensive play he was known for he provided timely offense including 13 points in the first game of his college career against Gardner Webb, 15 points against Stanford in the PK80, and 14 points at home against Georgia. Coming into his second season will we see a sophomore slump or will we see him take things to another level? Here’s a look into Okauru’s freshman season to get to know his game a little bit more and see how he might evolve this season.

2017-18 Stats

3.8 Points Per Game
1.0 Rebounds Per Game
0.6 Assists Per Game
11.1 Minutes Per Game
0.5 Steals Per Game
0.4 Turnovers Per Game
46.5% Field Goal
40.4% 3-Point
56.7% Free Throw

Positional Clarification

For those of you who have read any of my work regarding Florida’s point guard position this won’t be new to you but just in case I have to make it known¬: Okauru didn’t play the point guard position last year. According to the tracking data, KeVaughn Allen was the one who took all the point guard minutes when Chris Chiozza on the floor and though Michael Okauru was considered to be a point guard when the Gators recruited him, he wasn’t used in that role as all his minutes came at shooting guard. I’m not saying he can’t play the point guard spot moving forward, but I think it’s important to note that Okauru’s current grade when it comes to play point guard is “incomplete.”

Offense

I’ll be honest with you, I am shocked that he was a 40% 3-point shooter as a freshman. In high school he wasn’t known at all as a shooter and though he started the season hot from three, watching his unconventional shooting stroke had me thinking at some point his percentage would trail off. It just never did. I even had sources from the team tell me he never shoots the ball well in practice but he goes lights out as soon as the lights come on in the O’Dome. This goes in direct contrast to what I normally think as someone who views basketball through a coach’s lens. Usually players who have questionable mechanics will eventually have their shooting break down, but Okauru could be different. Maybe his stroke, though one I was critical of, works for him and the way his body moves and maybe his shooting will continue to be fantastic as he goes through his career at Florida. I’m still hesitant but even if his shooting takes a slight dip he’ll still be at a good percentage so hey, you do your thing Michael Okauru. When it comes to what he does well offensively other than shoot, well… there isn’t a lot of data there. He wasn’t trusted with many ball-handling duties at all, and there really isn’t much of a sample size for what he can do with the ball in his hands. He had more possessions running off screens or cutting to the basket than as a pick and roll ball handler and he only ran two isolations all year, a shockingly low number for any guard (he was 1 for 2, by the way). For all the jump shots he took when he was on the floor last season, he only took 2 off of the dribble. There is a good chance we’ll see Okauru running the point at some point this season and though I’m interested to see it, let the numbers I just mentioned reiterate that we haven’t seen Okauru be the primary ball handler much, if at all, and that makes his ability as a point guard a mystery. When he did get the ball (usually on the 45 playing the wing) I didn’t think he showed much of an ability to drive. He definitely wasn’t willing to grab and go when he caught the ball and sometimes when he tried a few dribbles his handle looked a tad loose before he passed the ball off. With so many of his offensive numbers being based on him exclusive spotting up on the perimeter, how his game looks when he plays point will be a surprise we’ll all have to wait for.

Defense

This is where Okauru really earned Coach White’s trust and earned himself minutes. Staying controlled when closing out to shooters, staying in a tight stance when guarding away from the ball, and staying glued to his man off pick and rolls I was really impressed with the way that Okauru defended as a freshman and I’m looking forward to seeing all the players he’ll lock down this year. His ability to fight through screens when guarding the ball or guarding a player away from it are evidenced by the 31.6% from the field he allowed on opponents running pick and roll and a stifling 12.5% when his man tried to catch and shoot coming off a screen. These numbers might seem nerdy and, well, maybe even insignificant to some of you but I don’t exaggerate when I say that I love them. It’s so easy for a player to give up when he’s screened (often referred to as “dying” on a screen) and the way Okauru always fought over, under, or through screens shows a player with relentless effort and a player willing to exert extra energy to get the job done. It’s one thing to lock your man down when he’s trying to beat you one-on-one (oh, Okauru was awesome here, too. He limited opponents to 25% on isolations) but working to defend away from the ball when the spotlight isn’t on shows a player dedicated to winning. Generating steals was also a talent of Okauru’s. Though he didn’t play enough minutes to qualify for the national ranking, his 2.8 steal rate would have put him in the top 200 in the country and was second on the team only to notorious ball hawk Chris Chiozza. Though Okauru’s offensive game may be a bit limited, his work on the defensive end will earn him a regular shift.

To Start Or Not To Start

The point guard race between Michael Okauru and Andrew Nembhard has been one of the storylines this fall as the Gators look for a starter to replace Chris Chiozza. Though Mike White has insisted it’s still a competition anyone can win, it feels as though the consensus is that Nembhard will win out (I’m in that boat as well). It may feel like a forgone conclusion that this is the Canadian’s starting job, Okauru’s defense could see him get the race to run with the starters. We know how important defense is to Coach White and I’d have to think Okauru is ahead of Nembhard in that area. Okauru’s rebounding in practice has also been praised by Coach White, something that you might not expect for point guards to really contribute to but White used to really get on Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza about rebounding the ball when he first came to Florida. I still think Nembhard will be the starting point guard due to his playmaking and vision but I expect Okauru will make the decision at least a somewhat difficult one.

Season Outlook

We know Okauru can defend but he’ll need to add to his offensive skillset if he wants to take on a bigger role. His only real offensive weapon last season was his shooting and if that were to regress at all he wouldn’t offer much on that end. I think Okauru could be the first guard off the bench, though Noah Locke might have something to say about that with his instant offense capabilities. However much he plays, Okauru will be a valuable piece in the backcourt rotation.