Josh Okogie’s energy on the floor as a Timberwolves rookie guard last season was a lot of things — boundless, infectious and sometimes overwhelming. There was never a wasted shift, and Okogie was going to use his frenzied pace to attempt to will himself to do something great.
There was an underlying truth of Okogie’s hustle: He might have been compensating for what he didn’t know.
Okogie, who is entering his second season out of Georgia Tech, quickly won over fans with his highlight-reel dunks and his do-anything attitude. But even he admitted he wasn’t processing the game like he should have been. It’s a lesson he learned playing in the FIBA World Cup as a member of Team Nigeria.
“My experience was great playing overseas. One reason being, it forced me to think the game,” Okogie said.
Specifically, Okogie pointed to his offensive game, which he will get to show off in the Wolves’ preseason opener Tuesday in Phoenix. In FIBA, there is no defensive three-second call, which allows the opposing teams to clog the lane if they so choose. That limited Okogie’s ability to score off the drive — and turned him into a shooter and decisionmaker with the ball.
“The center is most likely just standing underneath the basket, waiting for you to attack,” Okogie said. “So how I play, that’s one of my strong suits. It forced me to be able to shoot the outside shot more consistently and more confidently. And also when I drive, to be able to make [quicker] decisions and better decisions.”
Okogie can be tempted to use his athleticism to overpower opponents when sometimes the offense may call for more structure and restraint. To coach Ryan Saunders, that will be one of the differences between the thinking Okogie and the unrestrained one.
“It’s picking his spots in transition,” Saunders said. “Understanding that the offense will dictate where you should be. Spacing. Making sure that you’re in the correct position. The spacing helps above everything. If you’re spaced out, you’ll be able to get shots.”
Perhaps that will help lift Okogie’s three-point shooting from the cringeworthy 28% it was a year ago. Okogie’s offense is a work in progress. His defense is too, but he was a little more polished on that end of the floor and there were plenty of nights when he was guarding some of the top scorers in the league. The Wolves are changing their style on that end of the floor under the guidance of associate head coach David Vanterpool.
“There’s more structure,” Okogie said. “We’re trying to eliminate the gray areas in terms of concepts, so everybody knows what we’re doing and everybody is on the same page.”
When asked what parts of the Wolves defense were the “gray areas,” Okogie said: “Everything.”
“There’s always confusion when you’re on defense,” Okogie said. “Because all of the offenses are really good, especially when you’re playing really good offensive teams, but according to the structure that we’re trying to implement now, we should be all right.”
That structure includes more switching and more versatility with positions across the lineup. It’s unclear just where Okogie will fit when the season starts. He could contend for a starting spot. But whether he’s starting or coming off the bench his energy and enthusiasm won’t wane.
But he might be able to better harness it.
“This year I’m going to play with a little more focus, both offensively and defensively,” Okogie said. “Just not to play, but to play hard and smart and make sure I’m efficient in everything I’m going through.”
• Saunders said newcomer Jordan Bell has a calf strain and will miss the first two preseason games, including Tuesday’s opener in Phoenix.