Leonardo Okeke is emerging as one of the most intriguing sleeper prospects in the next NBA Draft. Okeke is a power(ful) forward who is showing stunning flashes at the semi-pro level, in the Italian second division. He’s a 2003 born, but already shows awareness of his own means (physical and athletics) in a grown men’s competition, while not having reached 19 years old yet. Leo is posting 10,8 points and 7,4 rebounds averages in 12 official games for the Novipiù JB Monferrato so far. Before this season, he was dominating Italian minor leagues and his game didn’t suffer with the step up into the higher category. The youngster has already a multi-year contract with Tortona, in the Italian top tier series, while he’s playing for Monferrato on loan. But, if he continues to impress scouts like he’s doing right now, he will surely be able to have even higher ambitions for his future career.
The physical part is certainly the most attractive one from the Leonardo Okeke profile. Physically speaking, the guy is probably almost already at the NBA level. He’s listed at 206 cms and 98 kgs, but what surprises me the most is how he perfectly knows to use his body advantages. It’s not all about his height and weight, Leo’s wingspan looks important, and he has really long legs. In fact, the depth of his steps makes up for the weaknesses about the physical aspect, which concerns his first step and his feet quickness. On the other hand, his lateral speed looks okay, we need to see him involved in a heavier defensive load.
Okeke’s offense is mostly based on his ability to take his opponents near the basket, where he can take advantage of his size. He’s too dominant to be stopped in the context in which he actually plays, but he has also demonstrated to be mentally and physically ready to adapt to a higher level: he has been not influenced by the jump from the youth categories. We already saw that his offense is focused around the rim, that’s because he has an incredible and soft touch to find the net consistently. Layups, hooks and fade-aways, are his daily bread in terms of shooting and scoring. Leonardo needs to add a consistent shot to his game if he wants to have a career of a certain kind, but the way he gets some tough buckets lets us hope for improvement in his shooting. Have a look at this clip below, the degree of difficulty is so high and Okeke makes it look so natural.
At the opposite, he rarely shoots from the mid-range and even more rarely from three, plus he’s struggling from the free throw line (55,6%), which is a pity considering the number of fouls he draws (6,5 FTA per 36 minutes). Adding a reliable shot to his baggage of skills would be crucial to open the court and facilitate his catch-and-drives and other solutions off the dribble, which are actual options for him. Okeke is able to put the ball on the floor and find the space driving to the basket, going straight to the goal or anticipating the conclusion with a sort of floater (next clip).
Focusing on the chance to see Okeke starting shooting jumpers with continuity, I noticed he isn’t starting from zero. Watching him taking catch-and-shoots (it didn’t happen often), it’s evident he has interesting shooting mechanics. The problem is the efficiency, given his shooting form – his legs are making a strange movement while loading the release. Leonardo’s brother (another prospect who was in NBA talks) looks like he feels way more comfortable at building his own shots, although he has the confidence to develop this side of his offense.
Finally, we must talk about the largest part of his offensive game: the post-up. It’s the situation that Okeke explores most frequently and the one in which he has already reached a good part of his potential, in contrast to pretty much everything in his profile. In fact, he shows already a wide enough variety of solutions, using his body and his pivotal foot, which he uses to get to the basket, not being afraid of contact. He’s scoring 0,91 points per possession from the post in this year Serie A2, as his primary playtype with a 26,1% usage frequency.
Leonardo Okeke defensive upside is even better than the offensive one. He’s potentially the archetype of the defender which NBA scout and GMs are looking for. The JB Monferrato’s player has the physical tools to be a key piece of a defensive rotation, using his versatility at the 5 position in small ball line-ups. He never refuses the switch on pick & roll scenarios, facing guards and bigs with the same attitude. Sometimes I think he’s even more at ease when ending up with backcourt players, because he can struggle against other power forwards with a quicker first step. Leo can contest every shot with his long arms and he’s ready to recover when he’s beaten from the start, thanks to his explosive step. In the sequence from the tweet below he’s simply scary. We can see him literally shutting a smaller player down, then he immediately gets back to the action blocking the shot on the second opportunity, which also shows a great feeling for the game.
When scouting Okeke, we need to remember we’re talking about a very raw prospect. So, both offensively and defensively, he needs experience to learn the tricks of the game. Playing with seniors as an 18 year-old will help him. A possible variance in his defensive progress would be seeing him in a more elaborated tactical system. For the moment, bigger or more experienced players score on him taking him to the post.
Moreover, the Nigerian born is, now, an elite shot-blocker. He may block shots in many different ways: using his athletic flashes for a chase-down or just working as a rim protector, due to his standing reach plus incredible wingspan. He’s averaging 2,3 blocks per 36 minutes in 12 games, while his opponents are shooting 44% against him in the restricted area (per the InStat tracker). Here are some of his powerful blocks, he totally explodes to deny the shot attempts.
Should he be employed as a primary/secondary rim protector in a hypothetical NBA future? Why not. He has all the tools to influence his opponents near the basket. Finishing at the rim when he’s nearby is a real problem, either in static or dynamic situations. Okeke indeed flirts with goaltendings, but this is not an Earth-shattering problem. In the following clip you can admire basically a bit of everything we talked about.
Recently, Leonardo Okeke got a prestigious endorsement, being visited by Mike Schmitz. The ESPN scout defined him as a late-bloomer prospect and that’s exactly the correct statement for him (non that Schmitz needed my approval…). Okeke is showing (and maybe discovering himself) new skills everyday and his steady progress brought him to global notoriety lately. Taking this into account, he showed glimpses of things that are so rare to go unobserved. Here are a few.
Look at how he converts defense into offense in the upper clip. After the successful full-court pressure, he runs the short transition and concludes with a gorgeous euro-step. That body control isn’t for all the guys of his size, the feeling to try to attack first and right away is notable too. This play, seen in the context, looks like something we’re used to seeing in NBA courts nowadays.
And what about this? Okeke picks up the guard on defense, holds up the mismatch (which is not really a mismatch), brings the opponent onto the help, then manages to deflect his shot. It’s not common to find players (at 18 yo) in the Italian second division who accept to have frequent match-ups against smaller players. He is absolutely special, but don’t take me wrong, there is a lot of work to do for him. He has to grow substantially under every point of view, except the physical one. What he probably needs the most is to be regulated on a basketball court, it’s not unusual to see him making mistakes because of doing simply too much. In some circumstances, when he goes “off script”, he tends to get out of control.
In conclusion, Leonardo Okeke profiles has a player with a high ceiling and a diametrically opposite not so high floor. If he finds someone who wants to seriously bet on him, sky is pretty much the limit. Therefore, if he develops in the right way, you should put an interested eye on him. In any case, I would consider his name for the next (or even the 2023) NBA Draft, while continuing to follow his European career.