Elie Okobo is playing his best basketball at the best time

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - 2018/02/23: Elie Okobo of France seen during the FIBA Basketball World cup 2019 European Qualifiers match between France and Russia.(FInal score France beats Russia by 75-74). (Photo by Elyxandro Cegarra/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
STRASBOURG, FRANCE - 2018/02/23: Elie Okobo of France seen during the FIBA Basketball World cup 2019 European Qualifiers match between France and Russia.(FInal score France beats Russia by 75-74). (Photo by Elyxandro Cegarra/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Luka Doncic is the international prospect that everyone has their eyes on. But don’t miss out on talented French guard Elie Okobo.

As the saying goes, second is only the first loser. The phrase is indicative of Elie Okobo’s draft stock for this season. The young french guard finished second to Frank Ntilikina for France’s LNB Pro A Young Player of the Year award last season. He’s been the best young player in the league this season by a country mile, putting up numbers that make a mockery of what Ntilikina put up last season. And his gis draft stock has drifted from late second-round pick to early second-round.

After today, though; he may make the leap into the late first-round, at the very least.

Okobo’s team, Pau-Orthez, tipped-off their post-season at first-placed AS Monaco. Monaco’s point guard, former Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, was given the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy before the game started. In response, Okobo went out and had one of the greatest performances European basketball has seen this season. He dropped 44 points, on 8-of-11 shooting from deep, and 12-of-12 shooting from the charity stripe. He chipped in four assists and three rebounds as well, but it wasn’t enough as Orthez ended up losing 99-97.

Nevertheless, the 44-point outburst has undoubtedly turned scouts and GM’s heads throughout the NBA. Fourty-point games in European hoops are almost beyond comprehension, especially when they come from a 20-year old who’s currently projected to go in the second round.

What’s most interesting about all of this, is that Okobo’s draft stock should’ve been this high already. Sure, the 44-point game is a shock and he probably won’t even be able to dream about it again without waking up to apologize to the basketball gods. But the skills he displayed in this game to get to 44 points are skills he has displayed consistently (not just flashed) this whole season.

Okobo finished the regular season averaging 12.9 points, 4.8 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 48/39/82. For reference, Ntilikina averaged 5.38 points, 1.5 assists, and 2.3 rebounds on 46/28/60 shooting splits. Numbers don’t paint the whole picture for Okobo. His body and game are very suited for playing as a combo guard in the NBA. Okobo is 6-foot-3 and boasts a 6-foot-8 wingspan. He’s also quick, and not just for a European guard. He’s got American prospect level quickness. He could definitely guard one’s in the NBA and could probably hang with undersized two’s.

His game is very well -ounded. Okobo’s numbers show that he can shoot from deep, but his form is smooth as well. He’s also left-handed which means the shot looks cooler, and is better. Those are just the rules.

In the above clip we see Okobo knock down three 3s, off-the-dribble, and in the pick-and-roll. NBA teams will obviously defend these pick-and-roll actions better and force him to shoot more contested 3s, but every point guard in this class will face that challenge.

Okobo is a much better shooter off-the-dribble than he is in catch-and-shoot situations.

Although he knocks down those shots in that clip and displays NBA range in two of those three shots, there are some flaws with his catch-and-shoot stroke. For starters, he prefers the one-two step into the shot instead of the hop, which is quicker. This leads to a slower release, where he dips a little bit before launching. If he doesn’t change this at the next level, he’s going to start turning a lot of open 3s into contested 3s.

Okobo can also attack the rim to score. He does this aggressively, with pace, and is an elite finisher for his age. Okobo demonstartes patience, waiting to get a big switch onto him. He then goes to his preferred hesitation dribble to get by the big man, and finishes with a wrong-footed floater in traffic.

In the first highlight in the previous clip. Okobo uses the hesitation dribble once more, this time after getting a ball screen to get to the rim and finish with a right-handed finger roll. In the next highlight he responds to the indecisiveness of his opponents switch, see’s another defender has his back turned, and decides to accelerate to the rim and finishes with his left hand on the right side to take advantage of the only angle he had.

Okobo will need to add more off-the-dribble moves than the hesitation once he’s in the NBA but his quickness and strong handle make it more than likely he will. His finishing repertoire is full of tricks and is very strong for a player his age. Once the other dribble moves come in, stopping him could become a daunting task.

Okobo’s offensive skills expand beyond himself. He’s a great passer, especially in the pick-and-roll. He can make every read and pass there is.

Okobo finds the roll man with a lob in that clip. The pass could do with a little more accuracy, but again, he’s only 20-years old.

In this clip he finds the roll man by jumping to see over the taller defender who switched onto him. This gives him the angle to throw the ball in an area where only his big can catch it.

In this final pick-and-roll passing clip we see Okobo run two early shot clock pick-and-rolls. In the first one, he makes a nice pocket pass to his roll man who finishes at the rim. In the second one, he gets into the lane and takes an extra dribble to draw both defenders before passing between them to his roll man who gets fouled.

Okobo knows how to find shooters in the pick-and-roll as well.

In the first highlight, Okobo pauses for a second, recognizes the roll man was picked up by a third defender from the wing, and then finds the open shooter on the wing for 3. In the NBA, he’ll have to make this read a split-second quicker, because the NBA is always a split-second quicker. In the second highlight he drives all the way into the lane and then somehow finds the shooter in the corner. I can’t explain that pass because I still don’t know how he got it there.

Okobo can play off ball, too. He’s a smart cutter who is confident when cutting because of his strength as a finisher.

In the first highlight we see Okobo make a transition cut down the middle of the opponents defense as his teammate drives baseline. For the second highlight, he makes use of a screen and then finishes with contact.

The final strong offensive skill Okobo has is his ability as a transition passer. Nearly a fifth of his assists came in transition this season.

In this clip he zips a pass to his rim-running big, catching the opposition napping.

Here, we see Okobo grab-and-go. He starts a fastbreak after getting a defensive rebound, getting almost all the way to the rim before shoveling the ball to his rim-runner. With Okobo donning the number zero on his back, it’s hard to not see some Russel Westbrook in him in that clip.

Okobo’s defensive talent right now is tough to assess but worst case scenario he has some very strong upside. His quickness, size, and strength for a guard give him natural tools that could lead to him becoming an elite defender one day.

This clip shows some closeouts from Okobo. In the first highlight not only does he closeout, but he also contains the jab step and then gets a good contest on the shot attempt. In the other two clips we see him make strong closeouts and contest catch-and-shoot opportunities. All these closeouts also show how quick he is at covering ground, essential for a perimeter defender.

In short, Okobo isa handful already — chalk full of skills that are elite for his age, an exceptional athlete, and with huge upside on the defensive end.

Strasbourg guard Dee Bost told me, “For his age, he’s really good. He’s athletic and can get to the rim.” Bost also discussed his outburst against Monaco and Aaron Craft. “[Aaron] Craft is the Defensive Player of the Year in the French League but he still gave them [Monaco and Craft] a hard time on the road. I mean in Europe, it’s hard to score 44.”

Next: The Step Back’s 2018 NBA Draft Big Board: Post-Tournament Edition

Bost is an explosive guard himself, who uses his quickness on both ends of the floor and can be very difficult to shake on the defensive ends at time. So when he says an opponent is athletic, can get to the rim, and is really good for his age, you’re inclined to believe him.

“He’s a good player no doubt,” Aaron Craft told The Step Back, “and playing with a lot of confidence, which is helping. His coach has given him the green light, too. For the record, he had about 12 on me yesterday. Have to salvage my reputation a bit. The rest I was either resting or off the ball. Regardless, it was poor pick-and-roll defense by us. Game 2 has to be different.”

It inexplicably took Okobo a surreal performance to assert himself as a first-round prospect. Hopefully now he builds on that, while GM’s and scouts throughout the league go back through their notes to figure out why they had him so low the past few months. If he keeps up this play, he may play his way ahead of Dzanan Musa for second-best international prospect in this draft and maybe even into a lottery pick.

Regardless of where he is finally picked come June, it seems like there’s a good chance he becomes the steal of this draft.