By trusting Okobo, an end to the Suns’ point guard search could be near
PHOENIX — With the NBA season nearing, the Phoenix Suns continue to try and solve their starting point guard conundrum. Barring a trade, the team has four candidates competing for the starting job.
And each brings something different to the table. So, which to choose?
General Manager Ryan McDonough may have cracked the code this past June.
The Suns selected Elie Okobo 31st overall in the 2018 NBA Draft hoping to shore up their backcourt depth. In the process, the Suns might have come upon a long-term answer to their playmaking questions in the 20-year-old French product.
“This is a guy worth investing our full resources into his development and making sure that he has everything available to him,” McDonough said of Okobo. “It’s not often that I get excited watching a rookie in terms of being a lot better than I thought they would be at this stage.
“But Elie is farther along than I thought he would be as a rookie.”
In his first NBA offseason, albeit an abbreviated one, Okobo has had to grow up rather quickly. More than 5,500 miles from home, he’s adjusting to professional basketball and handling a culture change simultaneously.
Okobo’s journey from Bordeaux, France, to Phoenix was less than conventional. At the tender age of 17, he began his professional career with Pau-Lacq-Orthez of Ligue Nationale de Basket, playing three seasons there.
Following his team’s elimination from the 2018 LNB Pro A playoffs, Okobo shifted his focus to NBA Draft preparation. It was during this time that the Suns zeroed in on the point guard as one of only a few teams that brought him in for a private workout.
According to McDonough, the quality of international game video remains a work in progress. Watching Okobo in person provided clarity and sparked increased interest from the Suns.
“He’s bigger and stronger than he looks. We know he’s able to shoot. We know he’s able to score,” McDonough said. “In three-on-three action, you can see some of the pick and roll reads, some of the feel plays he was able to make for a young guard.”
Despite an expected learning curve, Okobo showcased his poise in the team’s first preseason game Monday. In 24 minutes off the bench, he recorded eight points, five rebounds and three assists, displaying an ability to break down the defense, get shooters the ball in effective spots and manipulate offensive possessions.
It was Okobo’s maturity throughout the pre-draft process that intrigued the front office. Seeing that composure translate to a game likely instills confidence in those same people. Still, the first-year guard knows he’s got a long way to go.
“I still need to work a lot,” Okobo said. “I need to show him ([McDonough) that I’m really ready to play in this team and play in the NBA. I’ll need to show him that (with) the way I’m practicing, the way I’m involved (in) the team.”
Okobo has an opportunity to separate himself in the preseason rather than settle for a spot in a point-guard-by-committee rotation. Phoenix currently has four playmaking guards on its roster, including Shaquille Harrison, who started the preseason opener, journeyman Isaiah Canaan, who sat out with a sore thumb, and rookie De’Anthony Melton.
Entering his sixth season, Canaan returns to the Suns following a gruesome ankle fracture that cut his 2017 campaign short on Jan. 31. In the time since the injury, Phoenix drafted Okobo, traded for Melton and re-signed Canaan.
While coach Igor Kokoškov has not named a starter for the regular season, Canaan said the four point guards should embrace the challenge.
“As a player you want the competition,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s all about winning with me. I’m going to need them just as much as they’re going to need me.”