The Timberwolves had two separate media availability sessions this week, underscoring the rapid pace of the NBA offseason.
On Tuesday, they introduced first-round pick Josh Okogie and second-rounder Keita Bates-Diop, with head coach/President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden also there to field questions.
Two days later, Thibodeau and Layden again took questions – this time to address free agency, which begins this weekend.
The two things are intertwined, of course, as they present two of the ways (in addition to trades and internal development, among others) the Wolves can improve on last year’s 47-35 record.
As such, this seems like a good time to address this question: How much should Okogie and Bates-Diop expect to play as rookies, and how much will their presence impact how the Wolves go about looking for more wing players in free agency?
In terms of how much they should expect to play, I decided to try to use history as a guide. Thibodeau has been head coach (five years with the Bulls) and head coach/POBO (two years with the Wolves) for seven different seasons, with drafts preceding those seasons. Here is the body of work, looking only at first-round picks:
*2010-11: Bulls drafted Kevin Seraphin No. 17 overall but immediately dealt him to Washington and did not receive a rookie in return who played that season.
*2011-12: Bulls drafted Norris Cole (28) and Jimmy Butler (30) in the first round. Cole was traded on draft night. Butler was the only rookie on the roster and he played in 42 games, averaging 8.5 minutes.
*2012-13: Bulls drafted Marquis Teague (29), brother of Jeff in the first round. He played in 48 games, averaging 8.2 minutes.
*2013-14: Bulls drafted Tony Snell (20). He appeared in 77 games, averaging 16 minutes.
*2014-15: Bulls drafted Jusuf Nurkic (16) and Gary Harris (19). Both were traded to Denver on draft night for Doug McDermott and Anthony Randolph. McDermott, the No. 11 pick, appeared in 36 games and averaged 8.9 minutes in Chicago.
*2016-17: Wolves drafted Kris Dunn (5). He played in 78 games, averaging 17.1 minutes.
*2017-18: Wolves drafted Lauri Markkanen (7), who was traded to the Bulls along with Dunn and Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton (16 overall). Patton played just one game, 4 minutes after recovering from injury and playing in the G League.
Using history without any other context as a guide tells us Okogie and Bates-Diop shouldn’t expect to play much. Dunn, at 17.1 minutes per game, played the most of any Thibodeau-coached draft pick in those seven years. But he was still just No. 13 among NBA rookies that year in minutes played.
Thibodeau also has a history of doling out playing time sparingly to reserves – and plenty of rookies at least start their careers coming off the bench.
That said, Thibodeau was also coaching playoff teams with a lot of veterans in his Chicago years and again last year with the Wolves. In those scenarios, he was often coaching players picked outside the lottery and trying to work them into stacked rosters. Rookies on bad teams with plenty of playing time available have a much easier time getting minutes.
Okogie, who is similar in some ways to Butler, would probably like to play more than Butler did when he was a rookie under Thibodeau.
“I think it’s important,” Okogie said Tuesday when asked about contributing as a rookie. “Is it the most important (thing)? Probably not. But if I was given a chance to produce and help this team win, nothing would give me more joy than that. So hopefully it happens.”
Some that will depend on the second factor: Who else the Wolves land in free agency. Okogie and Bates-Diop can both play on the wing, where both have defensive potential and the ability to make three-pointers.
All of those things are needs for the Wolves – who don’t have much depth beyond Butler and Andrew Wiggins with Jamal Crawford opting out of his deal – but that doesn’t mean they consider that need fully met after the draft.
“I think versatility is the buzzword now,” Thibodeau said Thursday. “Guys that can play multiple positions and fit into a team. Still the needs of defense and the three-point shot are critical.”
What sort of pecking order gets established will be dictated in part by the market and in part by how much trust both draftees can earn starting with early workouts this week and beyond.
“You love the eagerness, and they’ve been great in the two days they’ve been here,” Thibodeau said.
We’ll see if one or both of them can actually crack the code and earn significant minutes as a rookie.