The Phoenix Suns had been without solid depth in the backcourt for the past several of seasons, but finally backup Elie Okobo is having the kind of start to the season to change that.
Let’s get this out of the way: the Phoenix Suns are a playoff team.
Even throughout all of the early-season injuries and suspension, this team is still in the playoff hunt and will remain there unless something catastrophic occurs.
In fact, even regardless of injuries in a broad sense, they are only going to get better.
One of the major reasons why they have a sincere shot to get there is because of their depth.
The roster has been able to absorb the loss of Deandre Ayton, Ricky Rubio, and Aron Baynes for stretches because the depth that general manager James Jones has placed there has made it so that the team can still remain afloat, even without a full compliment of stars.
One of the depth players who has flown fairly under the radar thus far while the franchise has taken the step forward fans have been begging for, is Elie Okobo.
Through 11 games, his statistics are not bad at all.
Averaging only 10.5 minutes per appearance (right where a third-string PG should be), Okobo is not only putting up 4.2 points and 2.4 assists, but shooting a very nice 41.2% from beyond the arc – a 12.3% leap over his rookie season.
On the surface, 4.2 points and 2.4 assists is nothing to be THAT excited about.
However, extrapolating those numbers to per-36 minutes and they do not look quite so ho-hum: 14.3 points is nice, although a stat that can easily be glanced over because of the potential for garbage time accumulation (although that has not been a big thing for this team this season, fortunately).
However, the 8.1 assists is a really nice number and something that should be taken very seriously.
Obviously a ton has changed this season in regards to Monty Williams‘ offense over Igor Kokoskov’s, plus Okobo has had a year of maturation and assimilation since his rookie season, but for a point guard to be able to average 8.1 assists per-36, and only play 10 minutes a game, is something to be very excited about in the future.
The argument for his draft selection was based on his scoring ability.
We all likely saw clips of him finishing at the hole with a flourish in his French mix tapes, but what wasn’t there at the outset of his NBA career was his outside shooting.
Granted, he has only attempted 17 shots from beyond the arc thus far making just 7, so it’s not like he has 75 attempts of something that would really show us a good extrapolation of the kind of shooter he should be projected out to be for a full season.
It is also worth noting that in his first 11 games last season, he was 7-27, ten more attempts than this year with the same number of makes, for a paltry 26.9%.
These are all stats that fans should be excited about, not only for his potential throughout the rest of the year and the hope of continued development over the next few years (he is only 22-years-old and is signed through at least next season – non-guaranteed – with a team option for 2021-22), but also for the rest of this year.
Depth is what is going to take the Phoenix Suns to the playoffs because injuries are going to continue to happen. Unfortunately it is a fact of professional sports life.
And, Ricky Rubio has only played through an entire year once and is apt to probably miss a few more games this season as the months wear on.
So long as Elie Okobo stays healthy, he is going to be able to provide the skills necessary to keep WIlliam’s offense flowing as efficiently as possible, and the two keys to that offense are both appropriate passing (anyone can pass the ball – it is about finding the right player at the right time to give him the best opportunity to score at any given moment) and shooting from the outside.
If, like so many players on this roster, his 3-point shooting is going to remain at a much higher clip than his last season (generally because of more open shots), then Okobo will continue to grow as an important part of the team’s rotations.
Where Jevon Carter falls short of Okobo as an offensive player (and he had been basically bumped out of the rotation prior to Ricky Rubio’s back spasms), is his lack of passing, and his assist numbers show it.
Carter only averages 4.4 assists per-36min, which is even lower than Eric Bledsoe – and we all know how inefficient a Bledsoe-led offense can be.
Former Phoenix Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough may have given the franchise one more small piece of hope from the draft prior to his dismissal in the form of Elie Okobo.
His play this season may be one of the keys to a playoffs run; and his continued development may the reason the franchise stays in that hunt for many years to come.