Credit: Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

If you take a look at the top of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague standings, you can see several familiar names that usually belong to the EuroLeague elite - Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv, AX Armani Exchange Milan, Olympiacos Piraeus... You know, the usual.

Elie Okobo

Elie  Okobo
Team: LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
Position: PG
Age: 24
Height: 188 cm
Weight: 82 kg
Birth place: France

But there’s another team that finished in 14th place last season and isn’t supposed to be here right now: LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne. The French side currently sits just behind Olimpia Milan, with a 6-2 record. In the first part of the season, they already defeated teams like Anadolu Efes and CSKA Moscow, and they fought really hard against Milan and Maccabi. 

If there’s a secret to this surprising start of the season for the French club, you have to look at their backcourt: Elie Okobo and Chris Jones. So far, the two players have been absolutely unstoppable for most of the defenses out there. 

Okobo is averaging 19.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 53% (yeah, you’re reading it correctly, 53%) from three-point.

He’s currently the best scorer of the EuroLeague, preceding guys like Will Clyburn, Nikola Mirotic, and Mike James. He’s also the best three-point shooter of the competition, and he’s in the top-10 for field goal percentage, which is usually dominated by big men.

In the game against Panathinaikos, he had his career-high with 35 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 5/7 from the three-point line. 

“Coming back to Europe, I wanted to show what I’m capable of,” Okobo said in a recent interview with Basketnews. “I want to play well, build something with the team, and win games. I think that the EuroLeague playoffs are a realistic goal for us”, he explained. 

Okobo was coming from a difficult time in the NBA. After being selected by the Phoenix Suns in the 2018 draft with the 31st pick overall, Okobo struggled to find minutes and consistency in Arizona, and he also dealt with injury problems. He was waived by the Suns after two seasons there. He spent the final part of last season playing in the G League with the Long Island Nets. 

Elie Okobo

Elie  Okobo
Elie  Okobo
MIN: 26.93
PTS: 19.63 (63.33%)
REB: 4.13
As: 3.5
ST: 1
BL: 0
TO: 3.75
GM: 8

“All those years were full of ups and downs, I was having my rookie year in Phoenix, and then I was between playing and not playing. I got hurt, then came COVID. I signed with the Nets, and I was playing in the G League bubble. It was probably the most difficult time in my career because I was playing through pain, and it was not fun”, Okobo explained to Basketnews. 

Chris Jones’ rise to the top of EuroLeague has been quite the journey. He started his pro career in Mongolia, not exactly the most commonplace for an American rookie just out of college. Then he moved to Switzerland, after that he played two seasons in Belgium and one in Turkey. 

“Oh, it’s a journey, I love it,” Jones said about his past experiences to the EuroLeague website. “You know, traveling all over the world, something I could tell my kids. Well, now my kids have traveled, they’ve been everywhere with me. So I think it’s great, it’s just a blessing from God, honestly”, he explained.

Last season he made his EuroLeague debut with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he averaged 7 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds while shooting 36% from three-point.  Considering it was his first time in EuroLeague, it wasn’t a bad season, he had his ups and downs, but it wasn’t enough to be confirmed by Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Israeli side decided to move in another direction, mostly because they didn’t think that Jones was the best fit possible next to Scottie Wilbekin, a source with knowledge of the situation told BasketNews. 

Different teams followed him over the summer, including Russian side Zenit, but in the end, he signed for ASVEL to team up with Okobo. His start of the season, just like Okobo's, has been absolutely impressive.

The American guard is averaging 15.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 46% from three-point. In the last game against UNICS Kazan, he had his career-high with 25 points. As of right now, he’s the fifth-best scorer of the competition, in the top 10 for index rating and true shooting percentage. 

Jones moved to more of a secondary playmaking role, where’s absolutely thriving. In his second season in EuroLeague, he’s showing all of his potential, becoming one of the best players in the competition. It almost looks like his partnership with Okobo was a match made in heaven. 

Okobo and Jones have scored 284 points combined so far, 47% of the ASVEL total points this season. An astonishing number, which confirms how important these two guys are for the French club and how difficult it has been for the other teams to slow them down so far. 

So welcome to the new reality: Okobo and Jones is the best backcourt in Europe right now, and they look determined to remain where they are.

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