Timberwolves Player Profiles: Josh Okogie

Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Johnson (@CjohnsNBA) contributed to this story.

The Minnesota Timberwolves preseason is here. Additional player profiles below. 

Josh Okogie was selected by the Timberwolves with the 20th pick in June’s NBA Draft. Weighing in at 210 pounds and standing 6’4.5” with shoes on, the Georgia Tech alum is one of his class’s most physically imposing shooting guards. Combined with elite measurements (7’0” wingspan) and athletic abilities (33-inch standing vertical leap), Okogie is dripping with defensive upside that he was able to showcase in college and at the Las Vegas Summer League.

On the offensive end, Okogie’s final season at GT saw him compile respectable 3-point (38 percent) and free-throw (82.1 percent) shooting splits. Still, his unrefined ability to attack the rim – and his role as the team’s primary creator – dampened the 19-year-old’s overall efficiency as a scorer.

It will be a project to help Okogie unlock the two-way potential that his amateur career illuminates.

Let’s dig into his player profile.

Statistical Profile

  • Okogie was one of two players — along with Warriors’ second-year center Jordan Bell — to amass more than 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks per game at the Las Vegas Summer League.
  • Connected on 66 of 173 (38.1 percent) 3-pointers in two seasons at Georgia Tech, but just 3 of 19 (15.8 percent) at summer league.
  • Was in the 13th percentile finishing around the rim among collegiate wings in 2018, per The Stepien.
  • Okogie is very young for his class – he turned 20 years old on September 1st.

Role on the Wolves

“I know last year, [The Timberwolves] brought a winning culture and I think that was the first year in many years we had a winning team. I want to help sustain that,” Okogie told Timberwolves.com in August.

“I don’t want it to be a drop-off. Over the course of a span of time, rosters may change, but as long as I’m here, I want to bring that stability to the Timberwolves program, whether I’m on the bench cheering my teammates on or whether it’s playing 40 minutes, wherever I’m at on the floor.”

Through four short matchups at the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League, Okogie demonstrated his priorities through a tenacious – and at times out of control – style of play. He could often be found diving on the floor for a loose ball or elevating at the rim to block the shot of a far bigger player.

Okogie, despite some obvious shortcomings, played with the mindset that he highlights above: when he’s on the court, he gives it his all.

As an offensive threat, Okogie served the role of primary creator for a lackluster Georgia Tech squad. As a result of that responsibility, his average skills as a ball-handler and a tendency to force shots at the rim, Okogie ended his college career with concerning efficiency statistics.

Still, he managed to connect on a very respectable portion of his free throw and long-range attempts despite shoddy mechanics. Okogie sports a slow, deliberate shot that he releases from right in front of his face. It’s possible that he’ll need to improve that form before he can be counted on to expand his range at the NBA level.

Regardless, he won’t be asked to shoulder nearly as heavy of a load as he makes his transition to the NBA.

Considering Tom Thibodeau’s expressed desire to test smaller lineups this coming season – specifically those with Jimmy Butler operating as the team’s power forward – Okogie may inhabit a position that affords him more opportunities for playing time than the roster’s other depth pieces. Nonetheless, his lack of polish indicates a battle to come.

Film Clipboard

Projecting how effective a rookie will be in the NBA will be is one of the most difficult calculations in the game. Due to the plethora of variables that go into success, the simplest line often drawn is player comparisons. i.e. Mo Bamba: Dikembe Mutombo or Trae Young: Steph Curry.

Not only are these comparisons often misleading because they draw parallels to a player who serves as a ceiling, they also are too simplistic. Draft prospects, in hindsight, often end up being an amalgamation of numerous players; comparable in only certain aspects of their games.

Rather than one catch-all player comparison, finding a single area of a rookie’s game that is comparable to numerous players can paint a more robust picture.

For Okogie, there are many players to use as options. Here, we’ll look at how Marcus Smart presents an optimistic ideal for how the Wolves newest rookie can impact the game immediately on the defensive end and also how the defensive growing pains of Kris Dunn illustrate a winding process.

Smart is thought of as a pestering nuisance on the defensive end; a player who will attack his opponent chest-to-chest with active hands that hinders a ball handler’s ability to create.

Smart is also regarded as a selfless defender who is willing to give up his body for even just a chance at securing the ball for his team.

What is often missed in the positionally ambiguous Smart’s game is the precision in which he plays off-ball defense with. His greatest strength as a defender may be his vision off-ball; specifically in the weakside corner, ready to assist when needed.

Inch-for-inch, Smart is perhaps the best “short” rim-defender in the NBA. (Comparatively, Okogie is one-inch taller and 15 pounds lighter than Smart.)

While these plays highlight converted blocks they also show precise awareness of spacing that make the block possible.

Here, Smart recognizes that Denver’s center Mason Plumlee is facing the strong side sideline when he receives the ball. With this recognition, Smart knows that he does not need to remotely care about his man (Trey Lyles) in the far side corner as it would literally be impossible for Plumlee to find Lyles without eyes in the back if his head. Thus: Smart cheats an extra three shuffles into the lane; positioning himself perfectly to defend the drive with shades of Roy Hibbert-esque verticality.

The Wolves can anticipate the pestering nuisance element of Smart’s defense to be there from day one from Okogie. Like Smart, Okogie defends the point-of-attack with a borderline obsession with taking the ball away. He knows he has the lateral quickness and wingspan to press up and attack without totally falling behind the play if his opponent makes a strong move.

What is not yet known is how well Okogie will develop skills as an off-ball defender. At Georgia Tech — and at summer league — Okogie did not always effectively toe the line of helping while understanding his own man is also a priority. Knowing how and when to do this is to be effective at “stunting.”

Here, Okogie over-commits on the stunt towards Keita Bates-Diop’s man at the top-of-the-key. Unlike the play with Plumlee, in this set, the ball-handler has a clear vision of Okogie’s man (OG Anunoby) who easily cuts backdoor for a dunk after Okogie over-commits.

Another element of Smart’s defense that is elite is his ability to be intentional about his on-ball matchup while also having an awareness of in-coming screens. Part of avoiding screens is found through communication with teammates, but by knowing how to effectively press up further and slither around the screen is a skill that can nullify the entire attack.

Smart does an excellent job of that here, in the playoffs against Khris Middleton and the Milwaukee Bucks.

When getting screened, the goal as a defender is to beat the screener to the point-of-impact. Smart is great at attacking the front-side of the shoulder on- and off-ball; avoiding that contact and staying in the play. Here, he uses his agility and speed to avoid the Joel Embiid screen and come up with the steal.

Okogie has the physical ability to be just as effective. However, at Georgia Tech, often times Okogie would lack an awareness of the screen and be slowed by screeners who would beat him to the point-of-impact.

This is reminiscent of Dunn who, like Smart and Okogie, is a player with near-elite agility, strength and speed. (Dunn was the same height and weight as Okogie when he was measured at the 2016 NBA Draft combine.)

However, as a rookie, Dunn struggled to consistently defend in ball-screen action when on-ball. Under Thibodeau in 2016-17, Dunn often looked similar to Okogie at Georgia Tech: obsessed with his man and unprepared for screens.

Particularly in the Wolves defensive system that ICEs side pick-and-rolls, the growing pains were steep and screamed a lack of understanding.

It should be pointed out that the above clip comes from Dunn’s very first game in the NBA; the frequency of blown assignments — like this one — dropped as the year went on. So, in ways, this is not a fair representation of Dunn holistically but is indicative of the early struggle. The tape, coupled with the complexities of Thibodeau’s defensive system, suggest the process for Okogie will likely be similarly slow.

Offensively, there are also comparisons to be made between Okogie and these two vets. But a better comparison, in terms of team relevance, is probably Derrick Rose.

Peak-Rose was a player magnetized to the rim on offense whenever the slightest opportunity presented itself. To watch MVP Rose attack the rim was akin to watching Adrian Peterson bust through the A gap.

In college, Okogie was not only afforded the same freedom as the old Rose but he had a similar propensity to attack downhill.

However, in Minnesota, the new Rose is no longer the primary option and these “A gap” opportunities are less of a priority in the offense. Instead, Rose is used situationally as a flanker coming off the edge.

Typically, this is recognized when Rose raises up from the corner so as to attack a defense, both east-west and north-south. This motion causes the defense to be less stationary than the set defenses he would see in Chicago.

In Las Vegas, Okogie served a similar function; often beginning in the corner and looping his way into an isolation opportunity against a moving defense.

With all rookies, figuring out who they will be is a confusing and often times long process. For Okogie, given his physical attributes, he should be able to piecemeal this together; one element of the game at a time. It is Thibodeau’s job to put him in position to highlight what he does best while still learning enough to amalgamate into the player he will one day become.

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