As the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers jostle once again for the NBA championship, the rest of the league have turned their anxious eyes to the offseason and it’s first stop—June 21st's NBA draft in Brooklyn.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, the team is in a suprisingly decent spot in terms of their upcoming No. 25 selection, as with the recent final prospect’s declarations now announced, the team is projected to be in a prime spot to snag any of the players who may drop onto their laps or simply take another swing at someone they value more than their competition.
One such player the team could potentially target at the tail-end of the first round is French guard and recent Jeep Elite standout Elie Okobo.
Standing at roughly 6’3” with a 6’8” wingspan, the 20 year old broke out this year for French club Pau-Lacq-Orthez, averaging career highs in points (12.9) assists (4.8) three-point percentage (39.4 percent) and minutes (26.3) in his native country’s most prestigous professional league—Pro A, or Jeep Elite.
Officially declaring for the draft back in April, Elie Okobo has garnered quite the buzz of late after what was an impressive season with his club and a recent spectacular playoff performance against number one seed, AS Monaco.
On a day that saw former Ohio State and now-Monaco guard Aaron Craft be given the league’s defensive player of the year award before the tip, Okobo retorted with an explosive 44 points (8-11 from three) a posting that would ultimately be only one point off from the highest point-total in French-League playoff history, according to Eurohoops.
Although the valiant performance was not enough to overcome AS Monaco (99-97 loss) it did open many scout’s eyes and has helped push Okobo’s stock into the first-round.
The question Lakers’ fans and readers alike may be asking themselves is why should the team go after another point guard after drafting Lonzo Ball last year? The binary answer is that Elie Okobo not only has the necessary tools to amplify Ball’s game, but on a more macro level gives the team the additional playmaking and shooting depth they desperately need.
The most notable transition from UCLA to the NBA for Lonzo Ball this past season was handling primary lead guard duties, specifically all things pick and roll. This is not to say Ball was technically poor at this — he was not — but Okobo is, in the most non-exxageratory way possible, nothing less than a pick and roll sorcerer.
It is almost laughable how impressive of a pass/read this is for a 20 year old, so much so nearly every player on the floor -- including Okobo’s teammates — are a second behind to register what just occured. Go back and look at how many heads swivel!
Throughout his season with Pau-Orthez, Okobo flashed a legitimate and complete pick and roll game. His ability to make nearly every appropriate pass from his team’s screen game (hitting the roll man, swinging to a shooter, etc,) came with a notable swagger in threading the most thin of needles.
Okobo is a crafty on-ball player, especially when he probes. He regularly does a solid job of keeping his dribble alive in the paint even among crowds with his trademark hesitation/change of pace, and continuously keeps both his head and eyes up.
Like all good primary ball handlers, the 20-year-old is always surveying the court and has stellar anticipatory reads. There is a distinct level of patience when he operates in a half-court offense that, when coupled with his quick decision making, really creates optimal looks for his team.
The Lakers are fortunate to have a player who is arguably already one of the most elite anticipatory/feel passers in the NBA in Lonzo Ball, but as the injuries last season exemplified—the next step in shaping the roster is to build a team with multiple creators, and drafting Okobo could be one step closer to achieving that.
The beauty of Lonzo’s impact on an offense is that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands at all times to be successful. In fact, many segments of basketball/college analysts argued the Lakers did a disservice in improperly using him primarily in traditional lead guard fashion last season.
The drastic drop-off of Lonzo’s UCLA off-ball actions, such as being the recipient of lobs, backdoor cuts, coming off screens, etc, in the half-court most likely was due to his role but also in the fact of the lack of other primary initiators.
Okobo could help in that sense as he is more than comfortable in handling those aforementioned offensive duties, but arguably his most appealing attribute is his own ability to seamlessly move on and off ball in an offense primarily through his dynamic shooting and quick cuts.
Going as far as telling ESPN he was: “one of the best point guards in the draft,” Okobo in reality plays much more of a combo guard on offense as he is often looks for his shot. His aforementioned stellar pick and roll play is only expanded on with an impressive ability to score in a variety of ways from it.
The ability to both create and score as the pick and roll ball handler is a prominent and vital tool in the current NBA, which has been an area the Lakers’ roster and more notably Lonzo Ball, have lacked in a micro sense.
Offensively sound in many facets, Okobo also has the keen ability to pull up from both deep and midrange, curl off screens/pin downs, attack closeouts, and flashed a subtle floater game in his repertoire.
He also simply has a knack of hitting tough shots. Something generally overlooked in terms of anaylizing prospects, but Okobo clearly showed the ability to shoot off-motion. Through his deceivingly quick handle, he regularly was able to create enough separation to bury looks against solid contests off the dribble.
In terms of where Okobo needs to improve/weaknesses, they are generally tied back to his defense and size. Although there are glimpses of quick feet and good general hands, there are concerns about how he will fare against more physical competition in the NBA. For a team like the Lakers who were among the league leaders in switching on defense, there is also the possibility of Okobo being the subject of headhunting if he gets crossmatched on a bigger wing regularly.
On the other end, he lacks the explosion and bounce to finish consistently against length around the rim. He will also occasionally be a little too ambitious with his passes causing him to be quite turnover-prone at times. Couple these issues with his sometimes questionable shot selection, and there are plenty of the expected warts for a 20-year-old prospect that is expected to go late in the first round or early in the second.
Ultimately it is uncertain if the Lakers’ front office would go the route of a player without the exceptional multi-positional upside as their previous selections possessed. With that being said, there is still tremendous value in having multiple players who can simply score and have playmaking nuance as showcased in these current playoffs.
Ironically, the last player the Lakers selected with Elie Okobo’s skillset is often his most common NBA comparison, former number two overall pick — D’Angelo Russell. It is hard to ignore the similarities at times being a left-handed guard with a quick trigger and highlight machine passes, which provides an extra feather in Okobo’s cap for Lakers’ fans who longed to see the pairing of Ball and a Russell archetype together.
There are still a lot of variables and scenarios that can happen from now until draft night, but if anything is certain it is the team will leave no stone unturned, even if bares a familiar resemblance.