MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Josh Okogie has hesitated to use the term “rookie wall” all season, thinking that avoiding speaking the phrase into existence was going to prevent him from running into it.
But this week Okogie finally conceded he had met that wall, the time in a first-year player’s season when the fatigue of an 82-game season affects his play in a major way.
“I didn’t want to admit it, but I’ll admit it,” Okogie said this week. “These past two weeks have been really hard just trying to push through, but now that I think I got over that hump, I think I can just finish off the year strong and keep growing.”
What does the rookie wall look like? Over eight games from Feb. 28 through March 14, Okogie averaged just three points per game on 29 percent shooting. Okogie hasn’t made his name because of his offense, but his defense also wasn’t enough to keep him on the floor for more than 22 minutes per game despite having a starting role.
“You just don’t even know you’re in it,” Okogie said of his funk. “Everything is just gloomy and you don’t know until you really sit down and ask yourself what’s going on. You just got to get back to doing the things you were doing in the beginning of the season.”
Over the past three games, Okogie has found renewed energy. He’s averaging 16.7 points per game on 56 percent shooting while playing 33 minutes per game.
The main difference, Okogie said, is that the game has slowed down for him of late.
“I think I’m still going the speed I like to without going as fast when I’m out of control,” Okogie said. “I think I’m finally finding the speed. Knowing me, I’m going to be still going too fast sometimes, but I kind of find the speed where I’m comfortable, able to make decisions effectively.”
Perhaps part of Okogie’s fatigue has come from all the minutes he has played this year. Robert Covington, this week declared out for the season along with Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague, has missed every game since Jan. 2. Okogie has started each of those games. If there’s a silver lining to Covington’s injury, it’s that it likely propelled Okogie to a larger role.
Missing an All-NBA defender in Covington hasn’t been ideal for the Wolves’ playoff hopes, but perhaps it will accelerate Okogie’s development.
“When the outcomes aren’t going your way, you [look to] take something from it … ” interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “Next year when we’re 30 games in and Josh is playing at a high level we can say, ‘Hey, we found a win in those games.’ But it’s all about taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Ever since Okogie emerged on the other side of the wall, he’s doing that better now.
“The biggest thing is mentally,” Okogie said. “We played a lot of games. … It’s a long time, and [I] never did that before in my life. I’m just trying to get used to that.”