If you could display in one moment the positive attributes Timberwolves rookie Josh Okogie has brought in his first seven NBA games, it happened early in the third quarter of the Wolves’ 124-120 victory over the Lakers on Monday.
Okogie was guarding Brandon Ingram beyond the top of the key. Okogie fought over a screen from JaVale McGee and kept pace with Ingram as he drove to the left wing. Then the 6-4 Okogie rose to block the 6-9 Ingram’s shot.
As soon as he touched the floor, Okogie was sprinting down to the other end and was in perfect position to take an outlet pass from Karl-Anthony Towns for a dunk as Ingram was watching Towns.
It was an easy two points on the score sheet, but it was a bucket created by the hustle, energy and defense Okogie has brought to the Wolves.
“You just like him,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You just like his energy, and he makes things happen.”
So far, Okogie has looked like a good use of the Wolves’ 20th overall pick — the one they obtained from the Jazz, who come to Target Center on Wednesday, in the Ricky Rubio trade. Okogie filled up the stat sheet in Rubio-esque fashion against the Lakers, finishing with four rebounds, three assists, three steals and that block to go with 17 points.
The Wolves, who grew accustomed to having impact newcomers when Andrew Wiggins and Towns won back-to-back Rookie of the Year honors, received nothing from draft pick Justin Patton last season after he was lost for almost the entire season with injuries.
Okogie’s contributions, then, have been welcome. He did not play in the Wolves’ first two games but he cracked Thibodeau’s nine-man rotation because Jimmy Butler missed a game to rest and Wiggins exited early in last week’s game against the Pacers because of a right quad contusion and hasn’t played since. Wiggins is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game.
Thibodeau prefers playing just nine guys, so what will happen with Okogie once Wiggins is ready to return and Butler is also in the lineup? Thibodeau hasn’t come out and said Okogie will still get minutes.
“He’s not perfect, but he’s learning and he’s eager every day,” Thibodeau said. “He comes in with a great attitude. I like that he’s taking advantage when he does play.”
Okogie said after Monday’s game that he “hasn’t even thought about” whether he will play when Wiggins returns. But there’s a benefit for him every time he plays — his confidence is growing the more minutes he gets, he said.
“[It’s growing] exponentially every night,” Okogie said. “And I feel like a big factor is my teammates telling me to keep shooting whether I get down on myself for missing a couple shots.”
He was 6-for-24 from the field in his previous two games before he went six of 13 on Monday. Okogie’s offensive rating of 101 is the lowest of any Timberwolf averaging more than 15 minutes per game. That means the Wolves score that many points per 100 possessions when Okogie is on the floor. His defensive rating of 109 is fourth best of those same players.
“We want him to shoot, feel confident and not feel like he has to pass the ball to us other starters,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “He’s just as vital as anybody on this team and with his athletic ability and his motor, his energy. A lot of good things happen in the NBA when you’re playing very hard.”
Towns said the boundless energy Okogie plays with can be infectious for the rest of the team, especially on a night like Monday when the Lakers were playing a high-energy, up-tempo game.
“Just seeing that energy coming from one player makes us want to raise our level to match his level,” Towns said. “He’s amazing for this team. We’re very lucky to have him and very fortunate to see him in a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.”
When Wiggins returns, we’ll see how much Okogie is wearing that jersey on the court.