Chuma Okeke’s official rookie season came to an end in the Orlando Magic’s victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 28th. Okeke did not return to the court after a sprained ankle sent him to the locker room with 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks for the night.
The former 16th overall draft pick spent his inaugural rookie season rehabbing with the Magic’s G-League team in Lakeland before returning to Orlando in December for NBA preseason action. Okeke scored nine points and recorded three rebounds in the Magic’s preseason debut against the Atlanta Hawks. He logged minutes in five of the Magic’s December contests before a bone bruise forced him to miss the entire month of January.
Upon his return to the court in February, Magic head coach Steve Clifford had nothing but high praise for his young forward.
“I think on both ends, obviously, he was terrific for a guy that hasn’t played for a while. He had a great first half. He also does a lot of the little things. He is very smart, high IQ, and not having him has been a hit for our team. It’s good to get him back.”
Clifford and the Magic coaching staff have been very careful in timing Okeke’s return from the torn ACL he sustained during Auburn’s Final Four run. Finally on March 12th Okeke was given his first career start against the San Antonio Spurs and oh yes, he made headlines. The Magic were down 53-41 in the third quarter against the Spurs when Keldon Johnson was called for an aggressive foul against Okeke. The call sent the former Auburn star to the line where he made all three free throws. The Magic then retained possession of the ball giving Okeke the green light to sink an open three.
The Big Chum we all remember was BACK and the Magic soon made it clear that they were all in on Okeke.
At the trade deadline the Magic sent center Nikola Vucevic to the Bulls, forward Aaron Gordon to the Nuggets, and wing Evan Fournier to the Celtics to make way for Okeke. Four days later Okeke scored a career high 22 points against Portland. Late March 2021 Okeke looked very reminiscent of March 2019 Okeke. In the Magic’s last four games for the month of March Okeke totaled 71 points, 5 steals, 9 assists, and 19 rebounds. His impact helped the Magic finish 2-2 through that four game slate after they’d began the month on a 9-game losing streak.
Okeke’s performance at the end of March catapulted him all the way to No. 2 in CBS Sports’ NBA Rookie Power Ranking.
Okeke’s rookie season may be over, but his career is just getting started. If he can manage to stay healthy through next season he will go on an absolute tear.