On Wednesday night in San Antonio, in the Timberwolves’ season opener and in Friday’s home opener, rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop watched the entire 48 minutes from the bench.
No one should have been surprised.
Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau took Okogie, a guard, with the 20th overall pick. In the second round, at 48, came Bates-Diop. The 6-9 Bates-Diop wasn’t expected to get much playing time. But Okogie had played extensively in the preseason and it appeared he might get some run early in the season.
Instead, Thibodeau with with a rotation that included guards Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose and bigs Anthony Tolliver and Gorgui Dieng off the bench.
And it doesn’t seem like that will change right away.
“You have to settle on a nine-man rotation, so right now he’s not in it,’’ Thibodeau said of Okogie.
Not really a big surprise. Thibodeau is in his eighth season as a head coach, his third with the Wolves. He does not have a history of using rookies much. Guard Kris Dunn, taken No. 5 by Thibodeau in 2016, played in 78 games, averaging 17.1 minutes as a rookie, then was traded to Chicago in the trade that brought Jimmy Butler here for last season. That is, by a large margin, the most minutes any rookie has played for Thibodeau, a list that includes Butler, who averaged just 8.5 minutes in 42 games as a rookie in Chicago in the 2011-12 season.
Jones knows what it’s like to pay dues. His advice to Okogie?
“Stay ready,’’ he said. “It’s cliché, but that’s the best advice I was given. Just stay ready, keep working on your craft every single day, and use the practices like games. Make sure you’re going hard. You never know what will happen.’’
Okogie? He said he’d keep working, and he’d be ready when the time comes.
“From the first day I always said I’m just here to help this team,’’ he said. “That hasn’t changed. Though I’m not playing on the floor, I still have a role on this team. I’ve done it before. I’ve been on the bench and had to work my way up. This is just another situation where I have to do the same thing.’’
Over the course of the season the Wolves will be celebrating the franchise’s 30th season. One of the Wolves highlights certainly is the 31-point, 31-rebound game Kevin Love had in a victory over the New York Knicks at Target Center in November of 2010.
“I look back on it and it’s like, ‘Man, in the first half it was ugly,’ ’’ said Love, in town with Cleveland for Friday’s home opener. “But we picked it up in the second half. It was a memorable game.’’
Much like the Wolves’ current situation with Butler, Love was a high-profile player who forced a trade out of Minnesota.
“It’s never easy,’’ said Love, who had 25 points and 19 rebounds Friday night. “It was difficult because I loved the guys I was playing with, and I had such a good relationship with Flip [Saunders].’’
Looking for threes
Brought in to help bolster the Wolves’ three-point attack off the bench, Tolliver didn’t attempt a trey in Wednesday’s season-opening loss at San Antonio.
Thibodeau said much of that had to do with the way the Spurs switched on defense. Not having center Karl-Anthony Towns — whose minutes were limited by foul trouble — also made spacing difficult for the Wolves.
“I think they will be there over the course of time,’’ Thibodeau said of three-point opportunities for Tolliver.
Tolliver said the Spurs’ scheme wasn’t unique, but that San Antonio did it better than most teams.
Tolliver was much more active Friday night, going 3-for-7 from three-point range to finish with 11 points.