Why Cleveland Cavaliers decided to pick Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji in 2022 NBA draft

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

LAWRENCE — As Ochai Agbaji watched the picks go by last week at the NBA draft, there were a few things on his mind.

Agbaji, who spent the past four years playing at Kansas, wasn’t worried about when his name would be called. He was just hoping someone would believe in him enough to select him. Up until the moment he learned where his professional career would begin, he felt blessed to be in that position and share that moment with friends and family.

Then came the call, and the news Agbaji would be taken with the 14th overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. At an introductory press conference Friday, Agbaji said the organization just gave him that “home feeling” — from president of basketball operations Koby Altman, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and more. And as Altman and Bickerstaff spoke, it’s clear why Cleveland chose Agbaji.

►RELATED: Kansas coach Bill Self reacts to Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun being selected in NBA draft

►RELATED: Denver Nuggets select Christian Braun with 21st pick in 1st round of 2022 NBA draft

“I thought he could be a weapon,” Bickerstaff said about Agbaji. “He’s got a skill that, no matter where you are in the NBA, you need it. He has the ability to put the ball in the basket, and it’s not the ability to just stand in a spot and make a shot. When we watched him play, it was his ability to move and catch and shoot off of screens, off of handoffs, where he knew how to make himself difficult to guard. And you know at this level, shot-makers are a premium. Not only as a young player, as a role player, as a star, like, his responsibility is to help his teammates.”

Ochai Agbaji walks across the stage after being selected 14th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft on June 23, 2022, in New York.
Ochai Agbaji walks across the stage after being selected 14th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft on June 23, 2022, in New York.

Altman was less than a minute into his opening remarks when he pointed to Agbaji’s status as a national champion. That followed praise Altman expressed for Agbaji’s character and work ethic. Altman has been adamant about Agbaji providing them with a skill set they didn’t have before, and the respect he holds for Agbaji’s head coach with the Jayhawks — Bill Self.

Bickerstaff highlighted how Agbaji and his fellow draftees add to the family feel within the team. In addition to the offensive capabilities Agbaji provides, Bickerstaff sees an individual whose ability to individually guard the ball on defense is something that the best defenses in the NBA — in Bickerstaff’s mind, Boston and Miami — have in droves.

“I’m just really anxious to play,” said Agbaji, listed on Cleveland’s website at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. “These past few months have obviously been blessed. I mean, winning a national championship and then getting drafted in the first round is, I mean, a dream come true for anybody. So, I’m so blessed to be here and to be in this position.”

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) takes a shot during the second half of a NCAA tournament game at the Final Four against Villanova on April 2, 2022 in New Orleans.
Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) takes a shot during the second half of a NCAA tournament game at the Final Four against Villanova on April 2, 2022 in New Orleans.

Bickerstaff didn't say much about which position Agbaji might play. Bickerstaff said the Cavaliers have played small lineups and big lineups. Bickerstaff said their focus is putting guys on the floor so both they and the team can be successful.

Bickerstaff and company will begin to evaluate players during summer league games. While they have film on their returning players in their own system, that’s not the case for a newcomer like Agbaji — who played guard at Kansas and has length Altman has praised. Agbaji’s role in college and his role in the NBA might look different.

“It’s opportunities for people to earn everything, and that’s what we believe in,” Bickerstaff said. “Nothing is handed to our guys. We expect them to go out, compete and earn it all. And no matter what your skill set is, it has to be for the greater good of the team. And us figuring out how we put the best five-men groups on the floor is the only thing that matters to us.”

Agbaji said he’ll play wherever he’s needed and will look to continue to apply the work ethic that served him so well as a senior with the Jayhawks. He’ll try to learn from everyone, not just the veterans. He didn't watch a ton of NBA games this past season because of how focused he was on his own college campaign, but he’s excited about the pieces Cleveland has on its roster.

Agbaji, 22, is older than many NBA rookies, but he's not too concerned. In the end, he said, basketball is basketball and everyone has their own journey to make it to the NBA. And he doesn’t agree with analysts who say he’s a finished project who has reached his ceiling as a talent.

“I mean, that’s just more motivation to get better,” Agbaji said. “I think, as my progression and my years have gone by, I feel like I’m only getting better. And with that, like I said, that last summer what I’ve learned, applying that to my career moving forward is just even more motivating to me.”

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: What stood out about Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji to Cavaliers in NBA draft