After declaring for the NBA Draft in 2017 before withdrawing his name from consideration, 20 year old French point guard Elie Okobo has again declared for the NBA draft, and this time, he looks as though he’s in it to stay after a strong season with his current team: Pau-Orthez.
“I decided to enter the draft because I think it’s a good year for me,” Okobo told ESPN (per Jonathan Givony). “I’m progressing every day and I see how I’m continuing to improve...”
A natural left-hander, Okobo is averaging 12.8 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent from three, 81 percent from the free throw line (on two attempts per game), 4.5 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.7 turnovers in 26 minutes per game with Pau-Orthez in the Pro A in France — a competitive league, one of the more competitive leagues in Europe.
Okobo participated and starred in the FIBA U20 European Championship in Greece last year, leading France to a bronze medal and is now a member of the French national team proper, participating recently in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
A 6’3 guard, Okobo is currently ranked No. 38 inside the ESPN’s top 100 prospects ahead of the draft and is confident that he is “one of the best point guards in the draft,” and while I personally am not 100% certain of that (purely based on the fact I haven’t extensively looked at other point guards in this class as of yet), it’s certainly hard to argue against his talent.
So, let’s get to it — what does Okobo bring to the table?
(Again, I’m going to split this into three categories, and apologies in advance for some of the quality in the clips I’m using. Footage of Okobo is fairly scarce and the footage that was around does not boast the greatest quality — not much I can do about that, sadly.
Okobo also wears number 0, for reference.)
Okobo is a very quick guard with a tight handle: one of the first things that struck me about him — and he uses these tools to great effect.
At the beginning of this game, Okobo considers driving inside, pulls it back, whips out a right-to-left cross as he blows by the defense, slips between two defenders and finishes over the third for the layup at the rim:
Coming off of a pick-and-roll, Okobo is able to turn the corner, drives toward the rim, extends, scores and draws the foul:
Something that helps Okobo get toward the rim — in addition to his pace — is his ability to lull the defense somewhat as he can shift through the gears when it comes to his pace/operate at different speeds.
Here, coming off of a pick-and-roll, Okobo lulls the defense somewhat before turning on the jets and scores at the rim with ease:
Okobo also did a good job positioning his body here, shielding the ball from the shot-blocker as he laid the ball up with his left-hand (his strong/shooting hand).
Perhaps this might serve as a better example when it comes to shifting gears... Okobo rejects the screen and goes to his right. He keeps the defense dangling as he probes inside before shifting gears and gets to the rim, but his reverse layup is blocked:
We’ll show one more... Here, Okobo again lulls the defense (on the switch) and then turns on the jets as he near the rim but his right-handed layup is a little strong, unable to lift it over the help defense:
There are more instances of Okobo driving/getting inside and finding a teammate than Okobo driving and scoring himself (which, I think, better reflects his unselfish nature), but we’ll save that for the next category...
If Okobo isn’t able to get by the defense with his penetration — whether it’s off of the dribble or with the aid of a pick-and-roll — he has more in his bag of tricks that he can dip into to score.
Okobo possesses a strong jumper (inside and outside the three-point line) and he can call upon this when the situation calls for it.
Here, Okobo gets to the paint using a spin-move, doesn’t get by the defense so instead he steps back and hits the mid-range J:
Okobo gets to the right block with the dribble, takes a long side-step to his right and rises into a fadeaway jumper that finds the net:
Later that game, Okobo unleashed the same move, resulting in free throw on this occasion:
On this possession, Okobo tries to use his speed going downhill to shed the defender and get to the rim but is well marshaled. Okobo fakes, gets the defender in the air, spins, fades and hits the jumper whilst drawing the foul:
(Another good example of Okobo shifting gears).
And for one of the best moves I saw from Okobo...he uses the screen, weaves inside (using his weaker right hand), spins to the rim and hits the layup with his right hand:
An absolutely beautiful move from Okobo.
So far we’ve seen Okobo use some of his pace — and his ability to operate at different speeds effectively — in the half-court but Okobo is handful in full-court too.
Off of a made basket for the opponent, Okobo charges up the court and gets himself into a great position at the rim but can’t finish the play with his weaker right-hand over some good defense:
Right after the opponent scores, Okobo turns on the jets and gets all the way to the rim for the score:
On this possession, again, Okobo takes advantage of the defense’s inability to set-up in time as Okobo tears from full-court to the paint where he draws the foul and free throws:
Again, similar to getting to the rim, Okobo creates many opportunities in these full-court situations for his teammates more so than for himself, and we’ll touch on that later...
One of Okobo’s strengths is his outside shooting — a very important aspect of the game that is usually required for a guard to succeed in the NBA today.
A number of Okobo’s threes come in pick-and-roll/screen scenarios — whether Okobo simply has the space to pull the trigger after a screen or if he’s switched onto by a big and Okobo sizes up that big and pull the trigger that way.
On a switch, Okobo unleashes a nasty step-back to create space he needs and hits the three-pointer over the stretched defense:
Here, Okobo is switched onto twice by the opposing defense. Okobo surveys his options as he dribbles (the ball on a string as he does so, he just looks so comfortable with the ball in the hands, like it just belongs there) and, because defenses know Okobo has the speed to blow-by, the defense sags off just enough allowing Okobo to pull the trigger and rise into a three-pointer:
Okobo needs to just a sliver of space to pull the trigger, let alone being left alone as he was on this possession after Okobo gathers the second chance opportunity after he gathers the tip, probes inside and tracks back behind the three-point line:
The FIBA three-point line is a little closer in than the NBA three-point line but Okobo looks like he has the potential to hit the NBA three:
Okobo can also knock the long-ball even with strong contests in his grill. Here, Okobo comes off of a screen and hits the three despite the late closeout from the opposing big in the pick-and-roll:
On this possession, Okobo comes off of a screen that is hedged, puts on the brakes, pulls up and hits the contested three:
Okobo can hit three-pointers in a variety of ways (we’ve already seen Okobo hit threes in pick-and-roll scenarios, on switches, from deep and contested threes).
In transition after a turnover, Okobo gets to the three-point line, pulls up and cans the three:
Here, Okobo whips out the James Harden-like ‘through the legs, step-back’ as he pulls up and hits this three:
And, lastly, Okobo can hit the ‘catch-and-shoot’ three, in addition to being able to pull-up and hit:
Okobo has the ability to flip games on their head. In France’s U20 European Championship game against Serbia, Okobo exploded in the fourth quarter, hitting four three-pointers and swung the game in France’s favor, and they’d go on to win the game.
He can be streaky at times from three but more often than not he’s an efficient shooter from behind the arc (at least, from what I saw)...
Despite his scoring ability and his ability to take over games, Okobo is a very unselfish point guard and can get/is willing to get his teammates involved in a number of different ways.
Okobo is a great playmaker in the pick-and-roll, whether it’s finding the roll man, a shooter or Okobo turning the corner/getting inside following a screen and then finding a teammate.
Here, Okobo tries to come off this screen but the defender guarding Okobo is able to recover and get back in front of Okobo. Okobo gets another screen that is slipped and the defense hedges. The roll-man draws the defender on the wing and Okobo finds the open shooter as a result, but can’t hit the three:
On this possession, Okobo is hedged off of a pick-and-roll, and a screen from a teammate puts the defender on the floor, allowing Okobo the time and space to lift a pass right over the defense to the roll-man who finishes at the rim:
Nothing ground-breaking, but Okobo receives a screen, waits for the big to roll before dropping a nice bounce-pass for the assist at the rim:
Here, Okobo successfully curls a beautiful pass around the big after a pick-and-roll to the roller who draws the foul inside:
That’s a gorgeous pass.
After receiving this screen from his teammate, Okobo draws the defense but is aware of his surroundings as he drops a bounce-pass back to his teammate who hits the long jumper:
Against Serbia, Okobo manages to turn the corner after the screen, gets inside the paint, draws the defense and finds the open man on the baseline for the dunk:
Near the end of the first half against Serbia, Okobo backs up and sets up after France recovered the offensive rebound. Okobo receives a screen, gets inside and whizzes a pass to the screener, who trailed the play, and finishes the play:
You can clearly see Okobo’s ability and willingness to make plays out of the pick-and-roll — teammates usually get quality looks when they play with Okobo.
We briefly talked about Okobo’s ability to get inside the paint to score and he’s able to make plays in the same fashion.
Here, Okobo gets inside the paint and kicks it out to the corner, but his teammate elects not to take advantage of a good catch-and-shoot opportunity and the chance created by Okobo goes a-begging:
On this possession, Okobo heads from inside his own half, gets inside the paint, brushes off the defender (who flops a bit on the play) and draws the help defender, opening an opportunity for Okobo to drop-off a pass for an easy basket:
Here, Okobo drives, draws the defense (who tries to reach in) and — while a little off-balance — finds the open shooter in the corner, but he can’t hit the three:
On a switch, Okobo takes the big off of the dribble, dribbles baseline towards the left corner, draws a smaller defender on a switch and finds the open shooter (as a result of drawing the defender) for a three-pointer:
Okobo uses his pace to create an opportunity as he uses a quick burst to whizz past his man at half-court and finds his teammate inside for an opportunity at the rim but can’t finish the play:
Coming off of a screen, Okobo bursts inside and finds his teammate in the corner for a three-point attempt:
I know I’ve touched on it before, but Okobo’s handle is really impressive: it’s so tight, feels like the ball is on a string: like the ball is just a part of him — you won’t see him commit a ton of turnovers due to a loose handle.
We’ve seen Okobo do damage in the open-court/transition in terms of scoring but Okobo is also a great facilitator in these situations too.
After a miss is tipped towards Okobo, the young Frenchman sets off his transition and finds a teammate with a bounce-pass for the transition three:
Off of a miss, Okobo surveys in transition and successfully links up with a teammate for a three-pointer with a nice cross-court pass on the move:
Off of another miss, Okobo speeds his way up the mid-court before passing it to his streaking teammate ahead of the ball, leading to a layup and score in transition:
This time it’s Okobo streaking ahead of the play after a turnover, and after he catches the ball on the move, he gets to the rim and drops off a calculated pass to a trailing teammate who finishes the play:
In a tight situation in the corner in transition (stumbling out of bounds afterwards), Okobo threads a beautiful pass to his teammate at the rim for a score:
Okobo’s feel for the game and ability/willingness to pass/find his teammates is very good — in pick-and-roll, transition and off of penetration/drives. Combined with his diverse scoring and outside shooting and Okobo makes for a fascinating option at the point guard position.
It’s all been roses so far but here’s where things dip a bit for Okobo.
In the film I watched of Okobo defensively, I wasn’t hugely impressed — he just seemed to be ineffective defensively.
For instance, in transition, Okobo could’ve tried a little harder to contest this fast break opportunity:
Here, Okobo is beaten off of the dribble, leading to a teammate having to step in his place which leads to an opening for the opponent at the rim after the pass is made:
On this possession, Okobo tries to go for the steal as the ball-handler drives by, leaving Okobo’s man open. The pass to the open man is made and Okobo is on the back-foot as he tries to close out. The offensive player fakes to shed Okobo — who sails on by with the contest — and the end result in an open shot which, fortunately for Okobo, isn’t converted:
Okobo makes a similar mistake against Serbia, drawn to ball while his own man makes a cut and gets to the rim for the score:
At first, I wasn’t impressed by Okobo’s defense but after watching some of his defensive possessions again, I realized Okobo — while he may not be outstanding defensively right now — has everything he needs to succeed in the NBA on the defensive end.
Firstly, he has strong physical attribute: good body, decent size at 6’8 and he’s long —boasting a 6’8 wingspan — and this certainly helps him cause issues for the opposing offense.
After the opposing team collects the offensive rebound and looks to set up, Okobo is able to knock the ball out of bounds with his outstretched arm, allowing his team to better set up defensively:
On this possession, Okobo again uses his length to disrupt the offense as he deflects the pass headed from the baseline to the wing:
Here, Okobo switches after pick-and-roll and deflects the pass inside out of bounds using every bit of length available to him:
Okobo is capable of moving his feet well and this help him stick with offensive players.
This following clip shows that potential as Okobo shows he can moves his feet well but still needs to be able to complete the play, as the offensive is able to get by but can’t finish over the help and Okobo comes up with the loose ball:
Think it was a case of positioning in this case...
He did a better job shortly afterwards but couldn’t prevent the score as the offensive player pushes off a bit on Okobo and steps inside for the score:
Again, Okobo moves well with the defense but is undone by the pull-up, which opens up an open shot:
Perhaps you would’ve liked to have seen Okobo contest in this situation...
He would put together a complete defensive stance on this play, as Okobo is unfazed by the screen, moves well and contests the shot which misses:
Against Serbia, Okobo goes under the screen and prevents the offensive player from getting by, forcing a pass:
Again, off of the dribble, Okobo stays in front of the offensive player and contests the shot which is wide:
Okobo likes to switch a lot defensively and does not mind switching onto players who are much larger than him, and he’ll scrap with them too — and he’ll just scrap in general, as we’ve seen in numerous examples already.
Here, Okobo fights to get over the screen and gets a hand up to contest the outside shot which is off-line:
On this possession, Okobo hounds the ball-handler, who elects to give the ball to another teammate. As he moves off of the ball, Okobo tracks with him and fights through multiple screens to get back in front of him. Unfortunately, Okobo is eventually beaten by the dribble (trying to reach instead) and it results in a score:
But you can see the defensive hustle to get back in front, fighting over multiple screens. Okobo isn’t afraid of anyone on the defensive end (no matter what the size of the opposition is, even on switches), and generally hustles/fights/scraps well — he doesn’t always complete the defensive play but he’ll be there or there abouts.
The defensive end of the floor is once that NBA coaches will need to work on a bit but, like I said, he has everything he needs to be a good defender.
And Okobo is counting on making that improvement — hoping to land with a team that prioritizes player development.
“...I hope to land with a team that is serious about player development that will help me to continue improving my skills,” Okobo told ESPN.
Okobo is an extremely interesting NBA prospect.
He’s got a diverse offensive game (able to score in a number of ways), has great physical attributes (including length, size, pace and strength) — which helps him get to the rim (and he also does a great job operating at different speeds) — he possess a tight handle and is able to light it up from behind the arc.
Despite that, Okobo is an unselfish player and is able to find his teammates in a number of ways, especially in the pick-and-roll, penetration and in transition, using his quick change of pace.
Defensively, it might not all be there right now but the potential is certainly there for Okobo to put it all together, it really, really is.
Add it all up, and Okobo has huge two-way potential in the NBA, and should he fall the latter end of the first round/early second round, he has the possibility to become a fantastic steal for just about any team.
In the latter part of the first round, the Atlanta Hawks will have the No. 19, No. 30 and No. 34 draft selections available to them on draft night (barring any trades): will Elie Okobo be brought to Atlanta with one of those selections?
Time will tell.