Credit: Imago Images/PanoramiC/AFP - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration
Credit Imago Images/PanoramiC/AFP - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration

On March 29, he posted a photo with crutches in his hands after ankle surgery from a hospital in Bordeaux. But now he's breaking other EuroLeague players' ankles with his 9-meter stepbacks and elite scoring.

Elie Okobo

Elie  Okobo
Elie  Okobo
MIN: 27.78
PTS: 19.9 (60.74%)
REB: 3.8
As: 3.8
ST: 0.8
BL: 0
TO: 3.7
GM: 10

And he has a great partner in crime. ASVEL Villeurbanne's duo, Elie Okobo, and Chris Jones, devastates the EuroLeague as the hottest backcourt in the tournament.

Okobo enjoys one of the best rookie campaigns in years, averaging 19.9 points per game and topping the EuroLeague scorers list. Jones, the second-year EuroLeague guard, accompanies his teammate as the 6th best scorer (15.3 PPG).

Okobo and Jones combined for 45.7% of ASVEL's total points in the EuroLeague and 49.6% of ASVEL assists. They have contributed to at least 60% of total ASVEL points either by scoring or assisting.

They took off ASVEL for a historical EuroLeague start 6-2. In modern EuroLeague history, Villeurbanne never experienced such a run that included beating two Final four teams, CSKA Moscow and Anadolu Efes Istanbul, on their way.

"Elie Okobo and Chris Jones are the top two choices to run the backcourt this year in ASVEL. I have full confidence in them," ASVEL's head coach TJ Parker said after the first win against Zalgiris Kaunas.

BasketNews tells the story of how Okobo and Jones ended up forming the hottest EuroLeague duo in Villeurbanne.

It all starts with Tony

Okobo and ASVEL's cooperation starts with the team owner Tony Parker, who knew him in person.

The best-ever French basketball player found out Okobo was evaluating his European return after season 2020-21.

Last year Okobo played in the G League bubble but didn't find much success with the Long Island Nets, where he averaged 8.9 points per game on 38.4% shooting. He ended up having ankle surgery and was out of the NBA.

Tony Parker

Tony  Parker
Position: PG
Age: 39
Height: 188 cm
Weight: 84 kg
Birth place: Bruges, Belgium

"It was probably the most difficult time in my career because I was playing through pain, and it was not fun," Okobo revealed in an interview with BasketNews.

Okobo played 108 NBA games, 19 starts included, averaging 4.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 39.5% shooting. He was drafted with the No. 31 overall pick by the Suns in 2018. But after his sophomore year, Phoenix decided to waive Okobo on the eve of the 2020-21 season.

Tony was in direct contact with a young scorer. They had a dinner before the Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns game two years ago, when TP put his young opponent on a clinic with a 20-point performance.

Okobo, 24, knew that due to his ankle surgery, he'd be ready to play only from early September, so he wasn't tracking the overseas market that actively. But ASVEL owner quickly reached out to him and convinced him to come to Villeurbanne.

ASVEL could offer what Elie couldn't expect from any other EuroLeague club. A familiar environment close to his home, patience, keys of a team, and care of Tony Parker made ASVEL's pitch hard to refuse.

"Seeing him leave the United States and choose our club to return to France is another strong sign that our project makes sense and speaks to French players who want to be involved," Tony Parker said after the agreement early in July.

1.91 m Okobo dropped at least 23 points in 5 of 10 EuroLeague games this season. He poured in 35 vs. Panathinaikos, which is the EuroLeague season-high to this day, including 17 fourth-quarter points, to decide the game in Athens.

He almost shocked Milan with 25 points in a tie game vs. AX Armani Exchange but sent CSKA Moscow home with a game-winning floater. He scored 26 against 10-time EuroLeague champions Real Madrid this week.

Okobo leads the EuroLeague in points scored from ISO situations (5.9 PPG). Synergy numbers show his tremendous clutchness with 1.439 points per possession and 61.1% accuracy.

"Okobo is truly an extraordinary one-on-one player," Milan's head coach Ettore Messina admitted after watching Okobo destroying his defense with 9-meter baskets.

Most importantly, Okobo is super efficient, shooting 60.7% from the 2-point range and 48.9% beyond the arc.

Okobo never left the court with a single-digit player index rating. And he's third on the most efficient EuroLeague players list (19.6 EFF), having just Nikola Mirotic (21.56 EFF) and Walter Tavares (20.56 EFF) in front of him.

"I know how to play basketball. I had some ups and downs, and I was injured for one and a half years. I know what I'm capable of, and I'm working every day on the moves I am making on the court. That's why I get to do what I do," Okobo said in an interview with BasketNews.

His ultimate goal is the NBA comeback, but don't be surprised if you'll see another Frenchman orchestrating Real Madrid or any other elite EuroLeague club soon.

ASVEL's financial situation for 2021-22 was hanging up in the air until they won the French Championship title.

There was a high possibility of a significant budget reduction, which would have forced ASVEL to forget players like Okobo, Jones, and others. But as BasketNews sources say, Tony Parker financially supported his club to keep them at the level to be competitive on the EuroLeague stage.

Believing in their old target

A year ago, financial uncertainty occurred when ASVEL tried to survive the first wave of COVID-19. That's when Chris Jones, a promising guard of Bursaspor, who started his European journey in Switzerland and spent two years in Belgium, got under the watch of former Tony's advisor at ASVEL Francois Lamy.

Lamy got an eye on 28-year-old American, who was not only a very physical defensive guard but also talented enough on the offensive end.

TJ Parker also liked him as a possible Jordan Taylor replacement. But since ASVEL managed to avoid a massive budget reduction, they decided to go with two-time NBA champion Norris Cole.

1.88 m tall Jones got back on ASVEL radars again during the season 2020-21. Jones was a Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv player, but he didn't find much success under coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos.

His effort and 100% commitment daily were there. ASVEL also liked that, unlike other foreigners, Jones didn't rest in domestic competition and led Maccabi to the Israeli Championship with 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per game.  

The EuroLeague numbers and fit next to Scottie Wilbekin didn't work out the way both parties expected, so Maccabi opted out from a contract.

Credit BasketNews.lt/V.Sodeika

Some teams were ready to give him another chance. Not only ASVEL, but Zalgiris Kaunas were also chasing him, sources say BasketNews.

Four-time NBA champion always participates in Zoom interviews. Having the French basketball GOAT on the call always helps. The negotiations weren't easy, but when Tony stepped in, Jones ended up signing with ASVEL.

Chris Jones quickly proved he was worth the trust. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to secure the win at Berlin 71-67.

Besides 15.3 points per game, Chris Jones is very efficient shooting the ball (2P: 58.7%, 3P: 45.5%), and he's also fourth in steals (1.8 SPG).

Now he is a legitimate front-runner for the unofficial most improved player of the year award. 

"It's the hunger," he said, talking to the EuroLeague TV. "It's proven that it wasn't given to me, and I worked for it. I mean, it doesn't come easy. For anybody watching this, that feels like they can't play here or don't have a chance, I'll just say, 'Keep working: your time will come.' Longer than I expected, but I mean, I'm here, and my goal is to stay here."

The backcourt of dreams made the rest dreaming.

Putting dreams into action

"I think that the EuroLeague playoffs are a realistic goal for us," Okobo declared after his night of dreams in Athens when he left OAKA with 35 points.

ASVEL follows Okobo's and Jones' leadership. The rest of the team is okay with two of their guards taking 40.8% of their shots, and players accepted their roles.

It wouldn't be anything like that if Okobo and Jones weren't that easy-going off the court and competitive on the field.

They also benefit from having good rolling bigs who don't require the ball in the low post. Or veterans like James Gist and David Lighty, who always put the team ahead of themselves.

"We believe in each other. We have confidence, and we're trying to build something right now," Jones said.

ASVEL's chemistry under Okobo's and Jones' leadership will be tested in the bad times. Such a losing streak that has started with two losses in a row against Crvena Zvezda Belgrade and Real Madrid. 

But this ASVEL is a team to watch for underdog lovers. The lowest budget for players' salaries, a good mix of veterans and young prospects, underrated Astroballe crowd, promising coaching duo of TJ Parker and Frederic Fauthoux.

And, of course, two hot backcourt players who put dreams in action.

Show comments
Thank you for reporting a comment

Add comment

We have the right to remove comments which are offensive, contains abusive language, or violates other rules of the website