Josh Okogie Is Already A Great Defender, But What's Next?


As we recap the 2018-19 Timberwolves season, our Kyle Ratke and Julian Andrews will be taking a look at each player on the roster and how we'll remember their season. We continue with rookie wing Josh Okogie.

KR: What a steal Josh Okogie ended up being in the 2018 NBA Draft.

He might have been unknown after being selected 20th overall, but he changed that quickly. In Summer League, we saw him play with an energy that you just really don’t see in July (Summer League is known for a lot of things, energy not being one of them).

He didn’t stop. And maybe we should have predicted that using his Instagram handle as a reference point.

And guess what?! Sometimes trying really hard when you’re a crazy good athlete is enough to find some success and become a fan favorite. That’s what Okogie was in 2018-19.

The 2018 draft class is going to go down as one of the best ever, more than likely. And the fact that Okogie landed one All-Rookie First Team vote and a handful of Second Team votes is telling.

His numbers won’t blow you away. He averaged 7.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 assists per game. He needs to work on his shot, which he’ll be the first to admit. He shot just 38.6 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from the 3-point line.

But you can’t ignore Okogie’s effort and drive, especially defensively. Sometimes, he just wills himself to a steal or turnover like some sort of defensive wizard. Most notably, we remember Okogie shutting down James Harden in a Feb. 10 win at Target Center. Okogie also scored 16 points in that game. 

Even with Okogie’s offensive struggles, there’s still plenty of potential there. He hit double digits in 23 games and 20 or more in three games, two coming in Wolves wins. At the very least, he’s a player who can score on cuts and running the court. 

For me, I guess what makes his rookie season so spectacular is that this was a player who wasn’t supposed to play. He was thrown into the fire because of the Jimmy Butler situation and later because of Robert Covington’s injury. It was obvious that Okogie earned a spot in the rotation and if you told me this is a guy who’ll be a multiple All-Defensive Team player, I’d have no reason not to believe you. 

Okogie is already back in Minneapolis, along with a handful of the rest of his teammates, for offseason workouts. 

When watching the playoffs, it’s fun to think of Okogie coming off the bench as a high-energy defensive player who can guard multiple positions. Of course, the playoffs are the first goal, but Okogie is that type of player who could be a morning sports radio (yell loudly in sports fan voice!) talking point because of how hard he plays and the easy buckets that can come of that.

A lot of times, people think of defensive basketball as boring. 

Watch Okogie for five minutes and he’ll prove you wrong.  

JA: When the Wolves drafted Okogie, I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t completely sure what they were getting. It seemed clear that Okogie had the potential to develop into a solid NBA defender, but outside of that there were a lot of question marks. 

Not everything is answered, but it’s fair to say that Okogie was a steal at pick No. 20. 

As it turned out, Okogie wasn’t just a promising defensive prospect—he was a plug-and-play NBA defender already, and a good one at that. Okogie’s relentlessness, athleticism and size make him a brutal matchup for opposing players. He’s a lockdown defender at both guard spots and he can hold his own when switched onto small forwards.

Sometimes it takes young players a few seasons to figure out what their calling card in the league should be. That’s not the case for Okogie. He quickly learned that the way for him to earn minutes was by playing defense and playing extremely hard on every possession. Those two things would be a recipe for success for many players, but Okogie distinguishes himself by being legitimately great at both. He’s in peak physical condition and his defensive instincts are superb. 

On offense, Okogie would be the first to tell you that he’s a work in progress. He’s great at getting out in transition but going forward he needs to work on keeping his head up when he’s running the floor to avoid situations where he’s taking on too many defenders or putting himself in a bad position. It makes sense—in college there were very few players who could match Okogie’s speed and athleticism, but NBA athletes are harder to beat down the floor. 

Okogie’s biggest job this summer should be to improve his three-point shooting. He’s flashed a sneaky good floater game and is pretty effective from midrange and slashing to the basket, but the Wolves need him to shoot from deep. If Okogie can raise his three-point percentage to around 32-33 percent next year, that would be a great starting point. He definitely improved in his confidence and willingness to shoot as the season went on and he should have a green light to let it fly next year so the path to improvement is there. He just needs to put up a ton of shots and make sure his mechanics are where he wants them to be. 

Okogie quickly became a fan favorite in Minnesota, and for good reason. The maturity level with which he approaches the game is fantastic for a young player, and there’s no reason he can’t take additional strides over the summer. Wolves fans should be very excited to see what this young player can do.  



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