Everyone outside of the Orlando Magic’s locker room is still trying to figure out who Chuma Okeke is.
Beyond the personality that seems hidden under lock and key behind closed doors — every player swears Okeke is the funniest player on the roster — it is about the play that is both extremely promising in one moment and somewhat frustrating the next.
It was made clear in Okeke’s rookie season that he has all the tools to be a solid contributor. He is a solid defender and a decent outside shooter.
That 3-and-D skill set is something that teams around the league covet. Okeke is the exact kind of player and person teams want.
He is not afraid to do the dirty work. He is comfortable working in the background. And he shows up in big moments when given the chance.
But he is also still a second-year player. He is also still a player who has dealt and struggled with injuries, oftentimes struggling to find his rhythm and his comfort on the floor.
Chuma Okeke has a clear path for a role in the NBA and the skill level to do it. But the Orlando Magic’s second-year forward struggled to find consistency and stability.
Okeke is a player with a ton of promise who everyone wants to see. But his sophomore season saw him seek stability on a roster that was short on it as he adjusted to a new coach. And then he just never got himself in rhythm enough.
This sophomore season was something of a step back for Okeke. But all the things that made him so promising from his rookie year were all there. And Okeke again started to show why he could be a good defender.
This season left everyone eager to see more from Okeke in one way. But when you take a macro-scale look at his season, it is hard to say he took the step forward you would expect from a successful sophomore season.
For the year, Okeke averaged 8.6 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game. Those are both slightly better than his rookie year numbers — 7.8 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game.
But he shot only 37.6-percent from the floor and 31.8-percent from beyond the arc, both numbers down from his rookie year. His 3-point field goal attempts per game jumped from 3.1 per game to 5.3 per game.
Some of that was because the Magic used him almost exclusively as a 3-point shooter this past year. And Okeke struggled to hit from beyond the arc, minus some momentary spikes. This was a 3-and-D player who did not have much of the 3-pointers going.
The team also surely wanted him to be a bit more aggressive — his usage rate rose from 14.5-percent to 16.4-percent. Some of that was the Magic had him working further away from the basket as his post-up opportunities dropped — 0.2 post-up possessions per game (at 0.73 points per possession) this year compared to 0.8 post-up possessions per game (at 1.11 points per possession) last year.
The Magic’s usage for Okeke changed completely from his successful rookie year to his less-than-stellar sophomore year.
That was part of the change from Steve Clifford and his highly structured, measured offensive style to the more read-and-react style that Jamahl Mosley favored for his young team. Okeke seemed to get lost in the shuffle offensively.
It did not help that Okeke once again started the season injured. He missed a good chunk of training camp and had to play catch up to start the season. He struggled right out of the gate as he had to grasp the new offensive schemes and where he fit — a quick stop in the health and safety protocols in December did not help matters either.
There just was not a lot that Okeke did well offensively this year. And it was just a hard fit for him within the team’s more motion-based offense.
If there was one silver lining, it was that he became a decent passer off his drives and could get to the basket. The finishing elements just were not there for him in the end.
The one area he did shine was on defense. Okeke was one of the Magic’s best defenders all year. He was a pest who was able to get deflections and just be a tough guy to break down in every form.
That was the one area where Okeke clearly found his comfort and found his footing this year. And that is something he can continue to improve and build on.
According to data from Basketball-Index, Okeke was one of the best players at playing the passing lanes throughout the league. He averaged 2.0 steals per 75 possessions and 3.0 deflections per 75 possessions (ranking in the top-10 percentile in both metrics). He was a constant at forcing and recovering loose balls.
He was even decent defending on the interior, although nowhere near where he was at being disruptive on the perimeter.
Okeke had a positive defensive rating in most of the catch-all statistics — such as LEBRON. And Okeke largely had a positive defensive impact. The Magic had a 109.1 defensive rating with Okeke on the floor, 3.0 points per 100 possessions better than the team’s average.
That is not to say Okeke still does not have areas he can improve. He is still improving as an on-ball defender. His value right now is more as a disruptor in help and off the ball.
But Okeke has shown he can get there. He exits the season far more advanced defensively rather than offensively. Although it is easy to see how Okeke can define his offensive role.
In his sophomore season, he just ran hot and cold offensively. And that is where his effectiveness could be seen.
Player Grade: B-
Chuma Okeke is still a player that holds a special place for the whole team. There are a lot of people who still believe in Okeke. And there are probably a few teams that feel like they could use someone like Okeke.
The thing that Okeke needs to do for his critical third season is to develop consistency.
This is a guy who scored 26 points on five 3-pointers in a win over the Houston Rockets. He had 12 games with 15 or more points.
But he is also someone who could struggle to score — he had 48 games of 10 or fewer points. And he took a lot of 3-pointers and missed a lot of them.
Okeke did not fill his offensive role. He never found his stability or fit offensively. Whether that was his own struggles to get his legs under him in a hectic season or his discomfort with the offensive system is something he will have to figure out this offseason.
Having some stability will help. He knows he is on the roster. He will have the same coach for the second year. And, he hopes, he will have a healthy offseason to get that comfort physically to be ready for training camp.
The one thing the Magic exit this season knowing is that they have something defensively. Okeke stood out with his defense and defensive effort. That is something he can build on and a role he can hold down for the team.
Okeke, despite the poor shooting, is still someone the Magic can trust to make the right decisions and be solid defensively. That is an easy way to get a coach to like you.
If Okeke’s shooting can rebound, then he will become a super valuable player.
His third season will go a long way to determining what his career might end up being.