Now that the Timberwolves have drafted two players who address their needs on the wing for versatility, length, toughness, defense and improved shooting, questions remain.
Such as, will they play and how much will they play?
Rather than package their 20th overall pick to shed salary or use it to trade down for an additional pick, the Wolves on Thursday used that pick acquired in last summer’s Ricky Rubio trade to select Georgia Tech sophomore shooting guard Josh Okogie, who checks the boxes for the kind of player Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau loves.
Then they said thank you very much and chose Ohio State forward and Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop after a prospect discussed in NBA draft rooms as a potential first-round selection fell to No. 48 in the second round.
Known to depend noticeably upon his starters, Thibodeau makes no guarantees after calling himself and General Manager Scott Layden “very excited” to add the two players that they did.
The Wolves still have other ways to improve: They can make trades, reach agreements with free agents starting July 1 and wait to see what veteran players — former Bulls Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, anyone? — reach contract buyouts this summer with their current teams.
“We’ll see how it unfolds,” Thibodeau said. “The way our league is going, having that versatility is important. The ability to shoot the three, the length of both guys, the wingspan is important. You’re seeing a lot of [defensive] switching in the league, so we want to take advantage of that. A lot will depend on how quickly they can adjust to the pro game.”
That process begins when both players arrive in town next week. The Wolves’ summer-league team convenes for practice and Las Vegas summer-league play a week after that and continues with summer and September workouts as well as October’s training camp and preseason play.
“Both guys have experience and have been through multiple college seasons, but they’re still young, very young,” Thibodeau said. “So we’ll get them in as soon as we can, get them into summer league and then the fall and we’ll see where it is from there.”
An athletic and attacking wing, Okogie has played two college seasons — and spent last summer with USA Basketball’s under-19 team coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari that played in Egypt — and doesn’t turn 20 until September. Bates-Diop played three collegiate seasons and is 22.
Until Thursday, the Wolves had only Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins under contract as wing players. Thibodeau predicts the wingspan of both Okogie and Bates-Diop will give the Wolves two more players who can defend at least three positions — shooting guard and both forward spots — and switch off defending opponents on two-man pick-and-roll plays.
Offensively, each can play at least two positions on a team where even big man Karl-Anthony Towns gives the Wolves versatility.
“That’s the way of the league right now,” Thibodeau said. “You’re seeing a lot of different combination where there’s a point guard, three wings and a big. You’re also seeing two point guards together, two wings and one big. Of course, the versatility of KAT can open things up so you can use a slasher going to the rim. You can put pressure on the rim different ways. We’ll try to do that. Versatility is the big thing right now in our league.”
Thibodeau calls Okogie “dynamic” and a “game-changer” who can score both inside and outside the three-point line and can get to the free-throw line as well. He shot 38 percent last season from beyond the college three-point line and said he nearly “blacked out” when Thibodeau called him Thursday night to tell him he was the newest Timberwolf.
“Basically, he was saying glad to have you, we want you to work hard and you’ve got to be able to play defense and knock down shots,” Okogie said. “And I’m ready to do that.”
Bates-Diop shot nearly 36 percent on three-pointers last season and attempted 5.4 a game.
Thibodeau deemed each player an “accomplished” collegiate scorer, but acknowledged both must get stronger.
“Now this is a different level,” Thibodeau said. “But there are a lot of things they did well in terms of getting to the line, rebounding, scoring in different ways. The shooting component was important, too.”
How quickly Okogie and Bates-Diop adjust to that different level will determine if and how much each plays. Whether the Wolves can obtain a veteran free-agent wing, such as Avery Bradley, will play a factor, too.
“The biggest challenge when a young guy comes is learning how to be a pro and learning the pro game,” Thibodeau said. “The work this summer will be critical. Summer league is important, the fall is important, practices are important. Playing time is based on performance. You earn that. That’s not just something that is given to you.”
• Now that the draft is over, the Wolves are working to assemble their Vegas Summer League team. Murray State senior guard Jonathan Stark and Arkansas senior guard Jaylen Barford tweeted they will play on that team. So, too, will Bucknell senior center Nana Foulland.