Elie Okobo finding footing, balance of being a PG in rookie year for Suns

Jan 18, 2019, 7:27 PM

Phoenix Suns guard Elie Okobo (2) prepares to pass the ball to a teammate from the baseline during ...

Phoenix Suns guard Elie Okobo (2) prepares to pass the ball to a teammate from the baseline during the first half of the Suns' NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Context is everything.

Phoenix Suns point guard Elie Okobo is a rookie. He’s a second-round pick. He only started playing point guard a few years ago. He recently moved his life to a different country.

All of that is evident when you watch Okobo play this season. There is promise in his overall game but that tale as old as time of the rookie wall is really giving him issues.

Okobo is a smooth-scoring lefty who has a variety of moves in his arsenal, namely changing speeds and finding the right angles to score all over the court.

We linked out this video before the draft, but watch again the performance from May that put Okobo on the map as a borderline first-round pick. Where has this guy been?

Okobo loves hesitation dribbles. Stopping his dribble a second to re-adjust and making a decision from there is doable because he’s got the burst to create space from that spot.

What he’s doing during that hesitation, though, is reading the defense.

He’s not only having to do that against NBA teams now but also trying his best to be a floor general while doing so.

You can see him thinking as he handles the ball, which is great in theory, but also a huge red flag that he’s not ready for NBA minutes.

A kick to the weak-side corner or finding the roll man is all he’s thinking about here as he jumps in the air.

In a year or two, Okobo will react and see the space available on the baseline to get under the basket and open up more options.

“Run. Run. Run. Oh, mismatch down low. Gotta get him the ball. Now. Before the defense gets there. Ah, crap.”

It’s not discussed enough how much reading these defenses has to do with the jump in caliber of athlete. Guys are way longer, faster and stronger, on top of reading things better.

This is a pass Okobo can make in France no problem but Denver’s Jamal Murray is a 6-foot-4 point guard. You’re not getting this past him when he’s paying attention.

That is really messing with his rhythm as a scorer. Like we will get to in a minute on his defense, Okobo is clearly a team-first type of player. That extra focus to do everything right on top of the overthinking has made some stints rough for him.

Remember just a second ago when we were discussing NBA length? Watch Okobo pump-fake on his jumper because Indiana’s Myles Turner is kinda sort of but not really in range to challenge his shot.

Occasionally, we see Monaco Okobo. A two-dribble pull-up like this where he gets into his shooting motion as he completes the crossover is nasty and unguardable.

Like the miss against the Pacers and that bucket above, Okobo’s problem is not getting to his spots. His jumper is smooth off the dribble and catch.

He just needs to, well, make his shots once he gets to those spots.

At the rim, Okobo is shooting 53.7 percent. You’ll take that number. Outside of that range and inside the three-point line, though, he’s at 15-of-46, a percentage of 32.6. Yikes.

From deep, he’s at 31.4 percent. Not great, but our disclaimer for this entire post is rookie point guards are usually like this. Nothing alarming.

Defensively, Okobo works hard. That’s a great start. Even better, he knows how to move his feet and use his above-average speed for your typical NBA point guard.

Trust me when I say to watch the Suns’ bench behind the play first and then go back and watch Okobo the second time. His rookie pals love it.

George King is basically dancing as Okobo cuts off the baseline. Basketball is fun.

Like any NBA rookie trying hard, though, he’s trying to help as much as possible off-ball by being multiple steps out of position.

As the Nuggets’ Will Barton drives here, Richaun Holmes has to cut off the space so that leaves some space for Denver’s Mason Plumlee to come in. That’s where Okobo comes into play, but he has to see that Holmes has the pass covered. Even worse, he can’t go all the way under the basket to leave a shooter open in the corner.

Our clip below is a great example of a step out of position being everything. A drive to the baseline forces Josh Jackson to somewhat help, but he’s got the recovery on his man down fine. Okobo is trying to help, though, and winds up two steps too far away from Monte Morris when three of his teammates are surrounding the ball-handler.

Even after a bad pass, Morris gets a clean look off.

A good possession to sum up his defense is one in which he tracks the Hornets’ Kemba Walker but runs right into the screen. Whoops. No matter, though. He hugs the big to keep him in a manageable space while Deandre Ayton helps him out, and he times the strip well on Walker as he cuts inside.

Nicely done.

There’s optimism Okobo can be average on defense, potentially even good depending on how his instincts develop throughout his four-year rookie deal. That’s a conclusion the Suns would have loved to hear on draft night.

There’s a lot of negatives we’re displaying here, but once again, that’s mostly life as a rookie point guard.

The most important part of Okobo’s play so far is that he’s had moments like 19 points against the Clippers on Nov. 28 where he showed who he is as a player, and far more importantly, has shown glimpses defensively and as a floor-reader where he’s improving.

Through eight games in January, Okobo has played in seven and has averaged 17.4 minutes a night in patches on the second unit.

All Okobo needs is reps and time to get over that rookie wall and it looks like head coach Igor Kokoskov is going to give him the chance to do so.

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