Suns work out fast-rising scoring guard Okobo, WVU’s Carter
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns need bodies, at no other position more than point guard.
As owners of the Nos. 16 and 31 picks, their interest in 20-year-old French point guard Elie Okobo could be a conundrum.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard for Pau-Lacq-Orthez in France’s Pro A league is the fastest-rising prospect in the last month thanks to a 44-point outburst in late May. That was among the triggers for draft expert Jonathan Givony to have him going 21st overall in ESPN’s latest mock draft.
Okobo would be a likely reach with the Suns’ No. 16 selection, but general manager Ryan McDonough said last week Phoenix would consider a few draft-and-stash options at 16 — McDonough said two unnamed players came to mind, and only Okobo and Dzanan Musa of Croatia seem like realistic options.
Okobo said he has a buyout in his contract and is ready to make the jump to the NBA. He’s worked out for Portland, which picks 24th, and has 10 more team workouts lined up.
The lefty has a compact, quick-release jump shot and uses changes of pace to manipulate defenses.
“Well, if you saw him a few years ago, he wasn’t a guy who passed it a ton,” said Suns assistant general manager Pat Connelly. “This year at Pau, he got the opportunity to be a point guard. His playmaking got a lot better, especially on the pick-and-roll. He’s got a good pace, he can really score, obviously, as evidenced by that 44-point game against Monaco … he’s had a nice year.”
In 34 games this year, Okobo averaged 12.9 points and 4.8 assists in 26.3 minutes per outing while shooting 48 percent overall and 39 percent from three-point range.
At a big 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, he’s in the mold of a high-upside defensive guard.
“I’m trying to show them that I can pass the ball, too, play as a point guard and then bring energy in defense and offense,” Okobo said Monday. “(Scouts and NBA executives) say they like the way I am on the court. They say I am very mature because I play against pros. They like my passing game, my scoring ability.”
Okobo was the highest-regarded prospect in a workout group Monday that also included defensive bulldog Jevon Carter of West Virginia, North Carolina guard Joel Berry II, Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel, Marshall forward Ajdin Penava and UCLA center Thomas Welsch.
Still, the stability of Okobo’s draft stock is more tenuous than most due to the backend of the first round being filled with mature, 3-and-D guard prospects from the college ranks.
The question for Phoenix: Is it worth risking a mid-round pick on such a young player who has experienced just spurts of overseas success?
“He’s getting there as a defender,” Connelly said. “He has the physical capability of getting there, just kind of has a scorer’s mentality, and now it’s being supplemented. It got a lot better this year playing in Pro A as a defender.”
Carter stands out
In a perfect world, Okobo could tumble to the Suns with their No. 31, making for a project selection with potentially two other rookies on the board.
In a less-than-perfect world, one that’s more realistic, the Suns are desperate to add ready-to-go point guard depth with their early second-round pick.
Carter might be the best option on the board when it comes to disrupting at the point of attack.
At 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds with a 6-foot-4 wingspan, the four-year player out of WVU is a pesky lead guard who averaged 17.3 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting 39 percent from three in each of the last few seasons.
“Part of it is his intensity,” Connelly said of the defense-first lead guard. “Like even in a workout, I’ve seen him practice, it never turns off. He never backs down. He treated every drill here like it was an NCAA Tournament game.
“If I went out there and did a shooting contest, he’d probably try and rip my head off, which is probably a trait more than him putting it on (to impress).”
Carter will have to stand out among a group of more versatile lead guards. As his reputation suggests, he’ll do so by leaning on his defense.
“Just growing up, little kid out of Chicago, that’s just the way I was taught the game. You learn first about it on the defensive end, and then you go from there,” he said.