He flew around the court on defense, rebounded with bounce and hustle, and showed flashes of the offensive game that saw him average 18.2 points per game in his final year at Georgia Tech.
However, as the start of the season kicked off, Tom Thibodeau stuck firmly to his famed mantra of not playing his rookies. After the head coach and president of basketball operations publicly committed to a nine-man rotation, Okogie failed make the cut in the opening two games.
When Jimmy Butler was rested in Dallas, however, the 6-foot-4 wing finally got his chance to make his NBA debut. In 28 minutes, he posted six points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and five fouls. the 20-year-old looked out of his depth at times, but his energy and effort were commendable. At times he was targeted by the referees on some soft foul calls, which seemed to take him out of his rhythm.
With Thibs’ stubbornness when it comes to playing rookies, nobody in Wolves World would have been surprised if Okogie didn’t get back on the floor for the foreseeable future. When Andrew Wiggins’ game was unfortunately cut short due to a quad contusion against the Indiana Pacers, causing him to miss the next game in Toronto, too, The basketball gods has shined down on Okogie. This time, he grabbed the chance and ran with it.
He played the role of the Energizer Bunny, a trait that should see him garner minutes even with Butler and Wiggins healthy. In 24 minutes, the feisty rook finished with 12 points (5-13 from the field), four rebounds and three steals.
While his offensive game is still rusty and plagued by tunnel vision at times, he has shown a genuine ability to knock down triples and get to the rim. He uses his spring-loaded 40-inch vertical leap to help grab boards, finish inside, and fly down the floor for easy fast break buckets. Any output the Timberwolves get from Okogie on the offensive end is icing on the cake, because his pit bull-like defensive presence is already enough to make fans weak at the knees.
When he is dropped into pick-and-roll defensive coverages, the young defensive stud does an awesome job of battling through screens and getting back to his man. When he is situated off the ball, Okogie knows when to zone off his man, stick his hand in the cookie jar to disrupt a play. Then there was this play, which was a whole other level of defensive competency:
So weird -- and cool -- to see a Timberwolves player work that hard defensively. Look at Okogie fronting Myles Turner! pic.twitter.com/oK9C65RhVo— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) October 23, 2018
After being switched onto Indiana big man Myles Turner, Okogie puts the shackles on him. He fronts the 6’-11” giant and denies any chance of an entry pass, forcing the play to break down as Indiana desperately search for a way around Okogie’s 7-foot wingspan. That right there is a play that only the finest wing defenders can complete.
When asked post-game about the sequence, point guard Jeff Teague wasn’t surprised at all. “I’ve been around JO for about three months now, that’s what he do. He plays hard. He’s aggressive defensively,” he said.
In Okogie’s second game as a starter — a 112-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors — he was impressive once again, even though he struggled with his shot. He finished with 10 points on a slightly worrisome 4-14 shooting, although his 50 percent (2-4) clip from downtown was something to hang his hat on, as were the 11 rebounds (five offensive) that he ripped down. The bulk of those 10 points came in a 90-second stretch where he nailed two spot-up triples and hammered home a thunderous putback dunk that dropped every jaw in the building:
On top of his up-and-down offensive game, Okogie was once again impressive on the defensive end. The stats backed it up as well, his 107.4 defensive rating was by far the best of any Timberwolves starter, Karl-Anthony Towns’ 114.9 rating was the next best.
His defensive play of the night came after Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard made him touch earth with a silky spin move. The rookie, like he has shown consistently thus far, didn’t give up on the play. He jumped back up and stuffed Leonard from behind to avoid being put on the highlight reel. A sight that will warm the heart of Wolves faithful that are used to seeing their team perish on the defensive end.
Now that Tom Thibodeau has let his terrier off the leash, it doesn’t seem feasible to put him back on it. Minnesota ranked 22nd in defensive rating last season and opened up the 2018-19 campaign in the same vein. They allowed 112, 123 and 140 points over their first three match-ups before, unsurprisingly, giving up just 101.5 points per night in Okogie’s last two games.
Even after the encouraging performances, the Wolves still ranked just 22nd in defensive rating with a ghoulish 113.1 mark. Aside from disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler and former Bulls teammate Taj Gibson, the Timberwolves are stained with below-average defenders.
We all know the reputation Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have built for themselves on that end, but Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Gorgui Dieng all have defensive shortcomings of their own. With this in his defensively-crazed mind, Tom Thibodeau has to wonder whether Josh Okogie is one of his best hopes of at least registering a league-average defense — if not better.
In his postgame presser, Thibs seemed like he definitely had that thought in his mind.
“For a rookie, there’s a very strong defensive component to his game. I think as he figures out the NBA game and learns the players better and what teams are trying to do, I think the sky’s the limit for him defensively.” he said.
Fans and pundits are already raving about the youngster’s skills on that end of the floor, and he has only featured in 78 minutes NBA basketball. Imagine what he can do when he fully grasps the concepts of NBA basketball. On both sides of the court.
Josh Okogie absolutely burst out of the box over the last two games, you really can’t shove him back in it now. The rookie has arrived, and Wolves onlookers are already filling up the bandwagon.