Assessing Leonardo Okeke in a 2nd Division, Italian League Preseason Game

June 10th, 2022

By Alan Lu

Casale Monferrato’s 2003-born Italian big man Leonardo Okeke has been receiving some draft buzz over the course of this year, and he is currently in the 2022 NBA Draft.  I decided to watch him play in a September 15th, second league, Italian League preseason game against Urania Milano, with thanks to YouTube via Lega Nazionale Pallacanestro.  There has been differing reports about his height, with some reporting it to be 6-9, another lists him at 6-11, and one site even lists him to be 7 feet tall.  Based on the video footage that I saw, he looks to be much closer to being 6 foot 9 inches tall.  Regardless, I decided that it was time to assess his skills, to get a feel for what he could bring to the table at the NBA level.  Here are my thoughts on how he fared, as well as how his game may translate to the NBA.

Leonardo Okeke is an Italian big man that currently plays for Casale Monferrato, and he is currently in the 2022 NBA Draft.
(Photo:
JBM, via Archysport)

Leonardo Okeke had his ups and downs in his team’s win over Urania Milano.  He is a fairly athletic, energetic big man that can make hustle plays to help his team on both ends of the floor, and he also even showed some ball-handling skills, but he also would sometimes play too recklessly on offense, and he didn’t seem to rebound or defend nearly as well hoped in this match.

Okeke thrived at scoring on hustle plays.  He was able to score on a roll to the rim, and he would get the ball on rolls and cuts and go up strong to draw free throws afterwards.  He also dribbled in and used a pump fake to draw free throws on a strong put back.  Plus, he also showed that he has a decent first step off the dribble, and Okeke can score on straight-line drives to the hoop.

Also, he flashed some low post scoring skills in this game.  Plus, he also dribbled in and used a hop step to score on a strong, right-handed jump hook from the post.  However, he tended to rush his moves when he would get the ball down low as he would tend to put on blinders when swarmed or facing double teams, and he would take tough, contested shots which would lead him to miss awkwardly in traffic.

On the downside, he was fairly turnover prone on offense.  On one good play, he tipped a ball to help his team get an offensive rebound, and his tap out enabled his teammate to score on a mid-range shot.  He also would set solid screens to help teammates get open jump shots.  On the downside, he tended to commit fouls when driving to the hoop.  He committed a couple of charging fouls, as he would tend not to change directions when taking it to the rim.  On another drive, he tried to use a Euro-step move, but he shuffled his first foot that led him to commit a traveling violation, which was a shame, because he would’ve scored otherwise had that call not been made.

Also, Okeke did a good job of rebounding the basketball.  He would chase down balls to get boards on both ends of the floor due to possessing a good motor, and he also would tip balls to his teammates to help his team get rebounds.  However, he would have trouble securing rebounds, and there were plenty of times where he would either need multiple tries to come down with the ball or would have to tip it out to a teammate instead.

Defensively, he struggled in this game.  For the positives, Okeke would use his length to contest shots off the dribble to wall off the paint and force misses, and he can do so when he is in position.  He also deflected a pass another time.  However, he would tend to sag too far when defending pick and rolls, because his team would use a lot of drop coverages, so he was not always in position to close out on shooters.  He would tend to allow opponents to score on wide-open jumpers out on the perimeter.   He didn’t show a whole lot of lateral quickness or mobility when he would attempt to defend out on the perimeter.  Other times, he would be late on his rotations, or would get beat off the dribble to allow scores.

Overall, Leonardo Okeke was able to make some plays to help his team in this game, but he probably should withdraw from the draft, as he will need to polish up his game on both ends of the floor.  He needs to improve his outside shot and playmaking skills, and he needs to improve his mobility and ability to defend out on the perimeter.  If he stays in the draft, he will most likely either wind up going undrafted, or be a late second round pick as a draft and stash candidate. He will definitely need time to hone and develop his game, but if he does make his way to the NBA, he could end up being a similar player to former Brooklyn Nets’ big man, Reggie Perry in the association.

Other Notes:

Casale Monferrato’s 6-5, 2000-born guard, Alvise Sarto is a skilled, mobile swingman that excelled as a shooter in his team’s win over Urania Milano.  He did a good job of making plays on offense, and he also was active at crashing the glass to help his team get rebounds, but he also struggled on the defensive end in this contest.

Sarto did a great job of running off ball screens to make quick, movement threes off the catch.  He also showed a knack for making dribble jumpers from the mid-range.  He is not overwhelmingly athletic, but he is a deceptively quick guard that would use off-ball movement and subtle dribble moves to get his shots off to score on offense.

Also, he is an unselfish player that would make the extra pass to find the open man to set up a handful of scoring chances for them.  On the downside, he threw a low inaccurate pass that his teammate had trouble corralling, and it led to a team turnover late in this game.

Plus, Sarto was able to chase down balls to help his team get rebounds, and he also would look to help his team get offensive boards.  Defensively though, he struggled in this game.  For the positives, he was able to contest mid-range jumpers to force misses.  On the other hand, he had trouble fighting through screens, and he would be unable to recover and would end up getting beat off the dribble as a result. He also would sometimes be late on his rotations and not get back to his man in time, which would put his team in scramble situations.  Other times, he would tend to commit fouls when defending opposing ball handlers due to over-aggressiveness.

Overall, Sarto had a solid showing in this game, but he ended up having an up and down season in the second Italian League this year.  He will probably wind up going undrafted, but his shooting skills and ability to move off the ball on offense could likely enable him to carve out a long playing career overseas in professional basketball.

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