Having emigrated to the United States when he was three years old, Josh Okogie starred in three games for his native land of Nigeria during some FIBA World Cup Qualifiers at the end of August. Before diving into the film, let’s take a look at the numbers for the new defensive specialist on the Phoenix Suns.
Per Synergy, the 6-foot-4 Okogie ranked in the middle of the pack in overall offense, scoring 0.77 points per possession (PPP) on 61 total possessions, ranking in the 51st percentile.
It’s a little tough to find the areas where he stood out in a positive way. The only play type defined by Synergy that Okogie performed better than the 60th percentile was pick-and-roll (P&R) ball handling where he scored 0.909 PPP on 11 possessions, which ranked in the 93rd percentile.
Much to the dismay of Suns fans, he wasn’t all that great in spot ups, where he scored 0.857 PPP on 14 possessions, ranking in the 57th percentile. Spot ups are likely where most of his touch share with the Suns is going to come from, but the relative struggles can be chalked up to being one of two viable offensive options on Nigeria’s squad — along with Sacramento Kings wing Chimezie Metu.
Thusly, not only did the spacing around Okogie suffer, but he took way more shots than he’ll take with the Suns; in two of the three games, Okogie attempted seven threes, going 2-15 (13.3%) over the entire stage.
Switch the stat sheet over to the defensive page, and eyes start to light up. Overall, Okogie was credited with defending 22 possessions and only gave up 0.682 PPP, ranking in the 61st percentile.
He excelled in defending the P&R, not allowing a single point on the 12 possessions he defended; I share one of the possessions later on below.
Now time for the film. I’ll share Okogie’s general highlights from each game before breaking down a defensive masterclass against Angola.
Game 1: 66-78 loss to Cote d’Ivoire – 23 points (5-10 2P, 1-7 3P, 10-11 FT), 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 5 steals in 35 minutes
Game 2: 89-70 win over Guinea – 10 pts (3-5 2P, 0-1 3P, 4-5 FT), 6 rebs, 6 asts, 2 stls in 22 min
Game 3: 67-70 loss to Angola – 15 pts (2-5 2P, 1-7 3P, 8-10 FT), 7 rebs, 3 asts in 36 min
Diving deeper into defense:
In this first example, Okogie has to come up and defend a P&R action. He recognizes that it’s going to be a really tough situation to fight for, so he calls out a switch for his teammate, Keith Omoerah, who doesn’t really react quick enough to come up for the pull-up three. Okogie on the other hand, did his job in communicating the action quickly and moving onto his new assignment quickly:
Next, there are a couple instances of Okogie walling off driving lanes from ball handlers. In the first example, the offensive player is dribbling so steeply right that Okogie’s “wall” gives such an open lane that he turns back to go left, but Okogie’s feet are quick enough to be in position for a good closeout:
Here’s another example of Okogie cutting off a driving lane, though this time the driver wants to attack the middle of the lane. Okogie prevents him from doing so, forcing an out-of-rhythm, low-percentage shot:
Later on, Okogie found himself matched up one-on-one against one of Angola’s bigger ball handlers, the 6-4 Gerson Goncalves, who averaged double figures in points (on 37.8% shooting from deep during this event) and is Okogie’s equal in height. Goncalves tries a step through move to get to the rim, but Okogie stays with him every step of the way. Gonvalves gets the better end of the possession with a bucket, but Okogie is in position for a block nonetheless.
And in this final example, Okogie comes up too high to defend the catch and thus is behind the play. That doesn’t always matter for him since his length — 7-foot wingspan — and athleticism give him a lot of recovery room, and in this case, he’s able to get the block at the rim:
There’s a whole lot of uncertainty around how Phoenix wants to use Okogie, and we’ll start to get an idea of that when the preseason tips on Oct. 2 against the Adelaide 36ers.
When the 24-year old was first signed, the Suns were still in the thick of the Kevin Durant situation, and Okogie’s role was a lot more crystal clear on a hypothetical Durant-led squad as an athletic guard that’s free to do just what he’s good at — and nothing else: defense and energy.
Without that level of offensive firepower that could’ve been on the team, Monty Williams has to be a lot more cautious about Okogie’s minute share, especially when he plays the exact position — roughly the 2/3 — that the Suns get a lot of their offense from with guys like Devin Booker.
Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the new depth guard perform well for Nigeria and flash his potential upside on both ends.