The Timberwolves Feel Okogie and Bates-Diop are a Fit, but are They Ready for the NBA?

Photo credit: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports

Versatility, wingspan and 3-point shooting.

All three qualities have been emphasized ad nauseam by Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden since they drafted Josh Okogie No. 20 overall and Keita Bates-Diop at No. 48. The Wolves need wings that can shoot and guard multiple positions right now, but Okogie, 19, and Bates-Diop, 22, might need some seasoning before they make an impact in the NBA.

“We’re lucky to come into a team where it’s a lot of good veterans,” said Okogie when asked about being drafted onto a team that is light on wings, but has established starters. “Not just KAT, Jimmy and Wiggins, but Taj Gibson has been in the league a really long time, so to learn from those guys and learning how they stay in the league and took care of their bodies is gonna be big for us.”

“Patience is key,” added Bates-Diop. “[There’s] a lot of great guys on the team…that have a lot of experience playing in the NBA, and also playing in a new system, so patience will be very important because I have a lot to learn.”

Thibodeau, the coach and president of basketball operations, is going to put them to work right away. The first workout was late Tuesday, the day of Okogie and Bates-Diop’s introductory press conference, and then it’s off to Summer League.

“Summer League is a great experience for players, because it’s their first taste of NBA basketball,” said Thibodeau. “The rules are a lot different, the game is a lot different, and it’s sort of a dress rehearsal for what training camp will be like.”

Fall practices after Labor Day, when the veterans return, will be critical as well.

“You earn your playing time by what you do in practice,” said Thibodeau. “If you perform well, you’ll play.”

Layden says that it was important that both Okogie and Bates-Diop came to Minneapolis before the draft to work with the team’s coaching staff, in addition to working out at the combine in Chicago.

“Through the process, watching their colleges, watching the Chicago pre-draft camp, we do have a fair amount of data that tells us what these guys can do,” he said. “But then does it also pass the eye test, and having them shoot in front of our scouts and our coaches.”

Thibodeau went out of his way to praise Layden for his hands-on approach to scouting.

“He was a part of (the Utah Jazz organization) for a long time (1981-99), and he likes to go out and evaluate and scout himself, and I think it’s a huge bonus for us,” he said.

“During the season, he’s here at all our home games. But when we go out on the road, he’s watching all the players himself. What you get out of that, is you’re cross-referencing the coaches, and there’s a lot of really great input that goes into it.”

The scouting report on Okogie is that he could become a shooting threat if he raises his release point and speeds up his shot, but needs to work on finishing below-the-rim layups and is an average passer. Bates-Diop is considered a solid shooter with a high release point and NBA range, but struggles to shoot off the dribble and may struggle to create his own shot.

Layden seemed convinced both players can become better shooters by working with the team’s coaching staff and by building muscle memory with repetitions in practice.

“They really have more opportunity to work with not only shooting instructors, but get up a lot of shots,” he said. “And if players have good mechanics, which both of these players do, by the way, and they have good work ethic, then the future will look bright for shooters.”

If they can hit the three regularly and guard the pick-and-roll, both Okogie and Bates-Diop will get playing time next season. The Wolves were dead-last in three-pointers attempted and made last season, and defensive breakdowns frustrated both Thibodeau and the veteran players.

“Obviously the three-point shooting is an area we wanted to address, and we felt we were able to do that with both of these players,” said Thibodeau. “And then of course the defense, the versatility, what we’re seeing in our league now is we’re seeing a lot of switching. So you have to have the ability to not only guard your own position, but to guard up and down, and we think both of these guys fit that.”

Both Okogie and Bates-Diop seem to have gotten the message.

“I’m comfortable playing whatever position that they need me to play,” said Okogie. “Whether it be perimeter, post, point guard — whatever the case might be, I think my skillset suits it. And as far as guarding positions, I love to guard any position: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Some positions are more difficult than others, but I’m ready for the challenge.”

“That was probably the reason we were brought here, is our versatility,” echoed Bates-Diop. “I’m big enough to guard the bigger guys, I’m long enough to keep wings and guards in front of me. So for both of us, that’ll be big.”

Even though the roster has multiple, well-paid stars, there’s a need for players with Okogie and Bates-Diop’s abilities — if they can become NBA-quality players.

“I look forward to these players getting with Coach Thibs and his system, because I think they’re gonna flourish and do very well,” said Layden, sitting right next to Okogie and Bates-Diop.

“Welcome and good luck.”

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