EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns PG Elie Okobo’s vision, ball-handling skills impressing in Vegas

Jul 10, 2018, 11:14 AM | Updated: 2:17 pm
Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton, left, and Elie Okobo, right, of France, slap hands after the team intr...
Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton, left, and Elie Okobo, right, of France, slap hands after the team introduced its new players after the NBA basketball draft Friday, June 22, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

LAS VEGAS — Deandre Ayton was at the top of the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick during most of the college basketball season. Mikal Bridges won two national championships at Villanova.

The Suns’ top two picks in the 2018 NBA Draft were known commodities. And then there was the first pick in the second round, Elie Okobo out of France.

Okobo, 20, was a draft prospect known for his scoring and shooting. In May, a 44-point explosion against Monaco in the French league was the peak of Okobo’s evaluation.

His best skill is creating space for his shot and even when that space runs out, still managing to score anyway.

With Okobo more of a scoring point guard at this stage of his development, that made it tricky to figure out how he would gel in Las Vegas with the Summer Suns. Players who made last year’s roster like Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson and Davon Reed wanted to get their shots up, and top rookies like Ayton and Bridges needed their looks as well.

Okobo, along with Shaquille Harrison, were the two main point guards on the roster tasked with distributing the wealth.

Coming off the bench for Harrison in the first three games, Okobo has shown he is more than capable of that.

Okobo has a rhythm to his game. As a fellow lefty, he has surely taken things from James Harden. There’s a high level of pace to that rhythm, but there was skepticism about how he would adjust to seeing the floor and manipulating opponents against tougher competition.

The aspect of Okobo’s game to notice right away are his active eyes. He always has at least one passing read in mind, something scoring point guards have trouble dealing with as they get tunnel vision.

Before Okobo even gets around this ball screen here, he is looking at the gargantuan hole in the defense at the rim.

He patiently waits for Harrison to cut into that hole and fires a bullet of a bounce pass to get the assist.

Watch how quickly Okobo fires this lob to Ayton as Dallas big man Johnathan Motley leaves Ayton to help on the point guard’s drive.

Okobo takes his one dribble beyond the three-point line and sees Motley already recognizing him and moving towards him. That’s a read some point guards take an extra half-second to see — as Suns fans know from the team’s rotation last year — but Okobo has it down.

He does it again here watching the help come off Ayton.

Processing the floor like that is crucial for Okobo because then it’s just an added bonus when he makes plays like this that are straight out of the smooth and crafty lefty wheelhouse of Harden and Manu Ginobili.

Three seconds on the shot clock and not a worry in the world. Impressive.

That’s the type of poise that made head coach Igor Kokoskov shoot down any notion that he’s a combo guard.

“He’s a true point guard,” Kokoskov said after Friday night’s win. “We’re not questioning what his role is, what his job description is. We know he’s a point guard. He’s got tools.”

That aforementioned concern about how Okobo fits in is put aside by how he described his role on the team.

“I want to them make them feel comfortable on the court,” he said Friday.

In Kokoskov’s offense that is oriented around movement of the ball and the players themselves, Okobo’s positive passes make him a great match.

As it stands, Okobo is in the point guard rotation with Brandon Knight and Shaquille Harrison. Knight, the veteran, is who Kokoskov has been designating as the team’s starting point guard at the moment.

If Okobo can play like he has in Las Vegas, setting up his teammates and keeping it moving while picking his spots to score, he will be the perfect rookie backup point guard to complement Knight.

Penguin Air

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