Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This installment breaks down French guard Adam Mokoka.
Having declared for the 2018 NBA Draft before withdrawing, 20-year-old French guard Adam Mokoka is giving it another go, declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft where both ESPN and The Athletic — among other outlets — have Mokoka falling outside of the top 60 of the draft in their big-boards/top 100.
But why is this the case? I’m going to go ahead and say right now off the bat that I really like Adam Mokoka, and I was surprised when I saw when he was listed outside the top 60.
Let’s go from the start.
Mokoka is currently 20 years old but will be turning 21 in July, so he’s one of the more experienced players coming from the international scene, seeing a big statistical increase with his new team this season, Mega Bemax in Serbia.
Mokoka has spent some times on the sidelines this season due to injury but in the Liga ABA he averaged 11 points per game on 38% shooting from the field, 32% from three, 66% from the free throw line on over three attempts, 3.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1 steal and 2.9 turnovers per game in 27 minutes a contest in 18 games played in the Liga ABA, all as the starting shooting guard, per RealGM.
The percentages aren’t amazing. Similar to Henri Drell, sub 40% shooting from the field is less than ideal and you’d like to see a little more than 32% from three but that’s not as concerning as the field goal percentage or the free throw percentage — 66% for a guard from the line on over three attempts isn’t ideal.
Mokoka has been pretty inconsistent this season too. March and April have been difficult months in particular for Mokoka, where he’s had lowlights 2-of-12, 3-of-13 and 0-of-7 games and highlights of 6-of-10 and 5-of-11 nights but the bad shooting nights appear much more often than the good ones — as you could probably guess for someone shooting 38% on the field for the season.
But don’t let the poor shooting numbers put you off — there’s a solid prospect here.
Physically, Mokoka is in a good spot. He’s 6’5, he’s strong, he’s athletic and he’s long. I haven’t seen an official wingspan anywhere but looking at him he seems to have good length about him. And he puts those tools to good use.
Let’s start defensively, for a change, because it’s probably the best aspect Mokoka’s game.
I just really enjoyed his defensive activity on-ball, enjoyed watching him fly about, how he stuck with guys, how he contested, his effort, his switch-ability and his energy.
Here, he sticks with his man on the drive after picking him up at half-court, switches onto the man inside, the opposition try to exploit the mismatch inside but Mokoka leaps, tips the ball and comes up with the steal:
On this drive, Mokoka sticks with the driver and contests the shot well, forcing the miss:
This is something Mokoka is generally good at — sticking with the drive and contesting well. Here’s another example, as he sticks with the drive but this time the offensive player looks to step-back and pull-up, and Mokoka is able to react to this and, with his length, contest the shot well enough and the shot is missed:
Here’s a great clip, as Mokoka sticks with the offensive player, comes up with the block and is ready to go again:
The very first clip kind of eluded to it, but Mokoka’s fight is generally quite good, and he shows it again on this possession as he’s faced with a switch on a big-man, fighting constantly to avoid the entry pass and finishes the defensive play with a good boxout:
It’s just really fun to watch him fly around:
Mokoka has some good moments off of the ball too.
His closeouts are pretty decent and he can cover good ground, such as here, getting out to the wing and preventing the perimeter shot, fighting through a screen to get there:
In help situations, he can be decent too, such as this possession, where he comes over as a double and the turnover is forced:
Mokoka doesn’t block many shots (0.2 per game) but comes up with one here as the help defender:
For a bit of context, I was watching all of this footage with a migraine and despite the pain I really enjoyed watching Mokoka defensively — it was fun. There are a few issues, however.
The main problem is that Mokoka is quite foul prone. For the season, across all competitions, Mokoka is averaging just under four fouls a game. These come in quite a few different forms, a few of them coming on drives — that would be the one area more than others when it comes to fouls but it’s honestly not too bad. Mokoka is just foul prone in general and they come in different ways.
As good as the on-ball stuff can be, Mokoka can let a few get through the cracks, such as this drive as he picks up his man from full-court (which he likes to do) but if the offensive player gets the jump then it’s hard to recover, leading to a basket and then commits the foul for good measure:
On the drive, Mokoka allows his man to escape but is fortunate to escape punishment as the shot is missed:
Off-ball, Mokoka can stray a little too far at times from the perimeter shooters, with consequences that don’t need a ton of explanation:
Let’s move onto Mokoka’s offense and scoring.
He’s able to score in a couple of different ways but with all of these you have to remember the percentages — they’re pretty bad but he can score in a few different ways, just not efficiently.
Let’s start with something simple: three-point shooting. 32% isn’t elite but he can hit them, both off of the dribble and as in catch-and-shoot spots.
Just to get a visual eye, here is Mokoka hitting a catch-and-shoot three:
This one looks a little better leaving his hand:
As the ball-handler this time, Mokoka comes off of the screen and rises into a three-pointer off of the dribble:
Here, Mokoka rises into another three off of the dribble after a flop from the defender opens up the space to fire away:
Coming off of the pick-and-roll, Mokoka steps into the open three-pointer:
Though, more of Mokoka’s jumpshots — whether they were threes or mid-range/long twos — ended up being a little long than they were short.
Exhibit A, as he comes off of the screen and gets to the mid-range spot:
Exhibit B, as Mokoka steps into a great opportunity at the free throw line after a screen frees him up but he long-irons the jump shot:
Again, he can hit these shots but it’s just not efficient.
Getting to the rim, it’s a bit of a better story for Mokoka. He’s able to finish a little at the rim and through contact better than, say, Joshua Obiesie of Wurzburg.
Here, Mokoka makes the cut, receives the ball and finishes at the rim despite the contact:
On the cut after an his own airball (an example of his jumpshooting falling short), he receives the ball and twists to finish at the rim finishing with his left hand:
In transition, Mokoka takes the rebound and pushes in transition (something he does seem to enjoy doing), doesn’t deliver the best pass to his teammate in transition but gets it back and finishes at the rim:
On these drives is where Mokoka draws a number of fouls leading to his free throws. Here, he gets to the rim from the perimeter, scores the bucket and draws the foul in the clutch:
Same game, and with the game on the line, Mokoka drives to the rim and draws the foul, sinking the two free throws to send the game to overtime:
For context on those last two clips — this was a game where Bemax trailed by 15 points at one point and Mokoka was instrumental in sending the game to overtime (though, they would go on to lose in overtime).
Mokoka can take it pretty hard to the rim, as he does here as he tries to go in for a dunk coming off of a screen before drawing free throws:
This aggression can...lead to some issues.
Mokoka averages nearly three turnovers a game, often coming by way of offensive fouls, as he commits the offensive on this drive to the rim:
One last thing to mention with Mokoka as a scorer is that he averages an offensive rebound a game, and he can mix it up on the glass when given the chance:
It’s another good example of Mokoka’s strength — he sent the player trying to prevent him getting to the offensive rebound absolutely flying.
Let’s move on to Mokoka’s passing ability.
I wouldn’t call Mokoka an elite passer but he’s able to do enough out of pick-and-rolls.
Here, he pops a pass inside over the defense leading to an assist:
Coming out of the pick-and-roll, Mokoka is faced with pressure but makes the right pass over the defense inside for the assist:
Here, he gets inside the three-point line after the screen and zips a bounce-pass inside to the roller for the assist:
There’s nothing groundbreaking here, it’s just to show that Mokoka can make plays out of the pick-and-roll.
He can also make things happen in transition and the fact he gets up on the glass means he can just get up and go, making a nice outlet pass for the quick assist:
Off of the dribble, Mokoka breaks down the defense and creates an opportunity for his teammate at the rim but the shot is blocked:
Let’s bring this home.
Mokoka is an intriguing prospect — he’s got the potential to be a two-way player. I’m just not sure if that will be in the NBA.
Defensively, he’s very active, he’s long, he moves well, he’s got good size, he can switch, he contests well and he covers good ground on closeouts. Mokoka’s fun to watch fly about and while there are some lapses both on and off the ball and the fouls are an issue, there’s some strong fundamentals to work with — he’s well equipped. Defense is the best part of his game.
It’s on the offensive end where things get tricky and concerning. As a scorer, I wouldn’t exactly call Mokoka elite right now. He’s got some solid foundations but the worry is he’s almost 21 heading into this draft and his offense is...just not as polished or efficient as maybe it should be. The efficiency is a problem.
I’d love to see him use some of his physical tools a little more — he’s 6’5, he’s athletic, he’s strong, he’s long...I just didn’t see him go to work in the post at all and I think he’d have some luck possibly there?
There’s not an aspect of his offense I’d call ‘advanced’, and that’s a problem. It’d almost be better to do one thing really well/above average rather than many things average, and that’s kind of the feeling I get watching Mokoka — he’s able to do a few things averagely but not to an elite level.
The counter-argument is that he hasn’t been playing professionally for very long and this was his first season as a pro where he got legitimate reps and he could make another leap with maybe another year in Europe. But if he does withdraw again and stays another year in Europe, by this time next year he’s then on the cusp of 22 years old and he’s more than likely not being drafted if he doesn’t make a big leap or have a big year, whereas this year is probably his best chance to be drafted.
And none of this is to say there’s not some stuff he can do well offensively.
He’s able to get inside nicely, his ability to finish at the rim is solid enough and he’s able to draw fouls but the jumpshooting is a problem and it’s not efficient right now — not from the field, not from three and not from the free throw line. If you’re an NBA wing and your shooting is shy, you better have something else to fall-back on, and fall-back on it hard.
Mokoka redeems himself on the offensive end somewhat with his ability to handle the ball and make plays but he’s not elite at this either right now. He’s able to make some plays but I wouldn’t call his vision or playmaking elite but his ability to make passes over the defense could be intriguing given his size.
The problem is that he’s not elite enough in either scoring or playmaking, and in this case it would be better to be either good at one thing and bad at the other rather than average/below average at both.
At least with, say, Henri Drell, you could at least put him out on the floor and he might be able to do something offensively even if you know you’re getting nothing with his passing, he’s probably going to get a few buckets and that’s fine.
And the one skill Mokoka is above average at — his defense — might not be good enough in the NBA.
Say he is good enough defensively, if he can’t provide anything on offense, will that be enough for his team to stick with him? There’s plenty of spots in the league for good offensive players even if you can’t provide a lot of defense, you see it all of the time. There’s a lot less spots in the league for defenders who can’t do a ton offensively. And if you are one of these players, you need to be elite defensively. Can Mokoka be elite defensively? And if he isn’t...then what?
I’d be worried that Mokoka’s ceiling in the NBA. If he is drafted and if a team brings him over this year, he’s probably not in the rotation and he’s in the G League often. Best case scenario, he might be a player who can come in off of the bench, make some plays scoring, handle for a few possessions, maybe make some plays, and defend. His ceiling is probably a rotation player that can do all of things and for it to be effective off of the bench. His floor is a player who can’t do those things well enough to hang around in the NBA, and I’m more fearful of this than anything else.
If he is drafted, the likely outcome is that he’s probably not playing a ton of meaningful minutes and if you’re ‘bringing him along’, in two years he’s turning 23 years old and you have to bear that in mind if it’s a rebuilding team that drafts him. He’d be much better off landing with a playoff team and being on the end of the bench and in the G League. The Warriors at No. 58 overall would be a great place for Mokoka to end up. With the Atlanta Hawks at No. 41 or No. 44? Probably not as much.
He was fun to watch and I quite like him, and I’m sure NBA teams will be drawn to him too, but his offensive ceiling in the NBA is, I think, the big question teams will have and you have to take into account he’s almost 21 years old. If a team thinks he has got a lot of room to grow, despite his age, then someone should absolutely take the chance in the second round — in the 50’s, there’s great value to be had here if you believe. If you have questions about his offensive ceiling and think he can’t be good enough offensively and that his defense won’t translate, you’re probably passing.
The thing I keep coming back to is why wouldn’t you just draft Joshua Obiesie, who is, yes, worse off offensively than Mokoka right now but has a much better feel for the game, is a better passer and is still a decent defender (not as good as Mokoka but still decent), he’s two years younger than Mokoka and you can stash him overseas for another year if you wish and spare that roster spot.
Many outlets don’t list Adam Mokoka inside their top 60 to be selected in the 2019 draft and, sadly, you can see why they think that way, even if you can see potential.