Josh Okogie is only entering his third season as an NBA player, but on the landscape of the Timberwolves' roster, Okogie counts as one of the more veteran statesmen on a team filled with young players.
"I definitely do feel a little old, it's weird," Okogie, 22, said Monday. "Physically, I'm not old. I feel as young as ever with this long break that we've been given, but just mentally, I feel like I know what's going on, I know what the coaches expect, I know what the fans expect."
For Okogie, that boils down to defense.
His defensive tenacity is what helped him become a first-round pick and likely will keep him getting minutes as he develops an inconsistent shot (27% from three-point range for his career).
With a team full of wing players, coach Ryan Saunders said defense will play a large role in how he allocates minutes after doling out the heavy slices of playing time to D'Angelo Russell, Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns and Malik Beasley.
"Defense is going to help get you on the court," Saunders said.
That would seem to give Okogie a leg up on others such as Anthony Edwards, who is fresh into the NBA, and Jarrett Culver, whose game may not be as refined as Okogie's defensively. Okogie said he has learned when to tone down his aggressiveness.
"My first couple years defensively I was really aggressive. I wouldn't say I was the smartest, but I was very aggressive and skillful defensively," Okogie said. "Now that I'm going into my third year, I'm definitely looking forward to mixing in that same aggressiveness, but using it more in an efficient way by mixing it in with film and smarts and brains."
Saunders brought up one way Okogie could see the floor without playing a traditional wing position. Even though Okogie is 6-feet-4, Saunders mentioned his wingspan is that of a 6-8 player. That could allow him to play against other teams' power forwards. Okogie wouldn't mind doing it.
"It's not something they've talked to me yet, but I do know, if I was in that position, I don't think I'd have a lot of trouble," Okogie said. "Even last year, rarely do I guard somebody that's smaller than me, unless I'm guarding like a point guard or something. Usually I'm guarding the Kawhi Leonards and Paul Georges, usually people that are taller than me, so I don't think it'd be much different."
As part of his veteran status, Okogie can now help younger players with the finer points of playing defense in the NBA and said he is embracing the ability to be a bit of a "coach."
"I can better help teach them if I'm off to the sidelines and I see one of the older guys or one of the younger guys don't understand something, I'm the guy they can come to to help clarify anything," Okogie said.
That has come in part from two years of experience playing games and two years of analyzing film.
"I always say the best way to get better offensively is to learn the other team's defense, and the best way to learn defense is to learn other teams' offenses," Okogie said. "So with time, you start to learn different teams and different coaches and you start to learn their strategies and what they want to do."
Okogie has a better feel for that now than he did just a short time ago.
• Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Naz Reid and Juancho Hernangomez have been absent from the Wolves' group workouts, Saunders said, as they clear COVID protocols to rejoin the team.