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Film Study: Josh Okogie

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The new Wolves’ rookie should excite fans

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In what was seen by most Timberwolves fans as a successful draft, they began the night by taking Josh Okogie from Georgia Tech. Okogie was third in my personal preferences behind Jacob Evans and Kevin Huerter. His combine was impressive, and he is going to bring two skills to the table right off the bat — spot up shooting and solid perimeter defense. Okogie profiles as a 3-and-D wing. This way of labeling players is likely thrown around too much, but from watching his tape I firmly believe he fits this mold.

Tom Thibodeau generally doesn’t like to play rookies but he’s also not completely opposed to it either. I think Okogie is the type who can break into his rotation in a meaningful way. The Wolves have one of the worst cap situations in the NBA right now, so they need rookies to contribute quickly and effectively. As soon as they drafted Okogie, I began taking a deeper look at his tape and advanced metrics. It’s hard to buy completely into metrics at the college level because they are so heavily influenced by the situation and the role the prospect finds themselves in. But when these stats are coupled with game tape, you get a more complete picture of the situation.

Okogie became a quick riser on social media draft boards following the combine in Chicago. Teams also began to ask about him as Sam Vecenie of The Athletic illustrates.

The Metrics

Before I dive into the tape, it makes sense to explain what his role was with Georgia Tech. He was weirdly used in the opposite way to how he probably should be. He is not going to be a first or second option at the NBA level as he doesn’t have a wide array of finishing moves in pick-and-roll situations. Despite clear struggles, he was top in usage of his ten qualified teammates. Defensively, he projects to be a stopper at the next level, though his defensive box-plus minus was a disappointing 2.0. He wasn’t really used as a major on-ball defender either, as he mostly played on the wing in a zone scheme or tracked shooting guards in man defense.

Okogie’s offensive role was as the main ball handler without stretch bigs, so individual play-type data doesn’t really have much value.

The Yellow Jackets had no stretch-four outside of Evan Cole, and he was hardly effective anyway as he shot 27% from downtown. Without reliable big options, the pick-and-roll play is never going to be effective. He still has work to do in this regard, as I will analyze below, but he wasn’t helped much by his situation.

Okogie doesn’t appear to be a player who measures that well in any metric. His 22.3 PER along with his .156 WS/48 are both the highest on the Georgia Tech roster, but not particularly great in the grand scheme of things. Still, this was a pick made on defensive upside and fit as a spot-up shooter alongside the Wolves’ long term stars who will monopolize the touches. This helps Okogie, as he clearly struggled being the main man.

My most valued metric was created by Jacob Goldstein of Nylon Calculus — the player impact plus-minus metric. It is not only the best player value metric, but it is better at being a projector of future success than old metrics such as Box plus-minus. Defensively this metric ranks him in the 86th percentile, which should give everyone hope. His ability to defend multiple positions and his long wingspan contributes to this. Georgia Tech loved to switch screens, and his success in this matches up well to the numbers. Offensively the story isn’t quite so good for Okogie. He ranks in the 24th percentile and it is clear he needs to diversify his game.

Metrics aren’t everything, but they do paint Okogie as the type of player I believe him to be when watching the film. He’s a good defender with an offensive profile that is very narrow as he relies on spot-ups and doesn’t really contribute with other play types. Regardless, I would argue that this is because of things outside of his control. Play-type efficiency stats at the collegiate level are more of an indicator of what the players’ role was, so I am more hopeful than other people are with regards to his offensive game.

The Offensive Tape

One of the hardest things I found when evaluating Okogie’s game was how few opportunities he got as an open shooter. He was thrust into a role that should have been beyond him, but he did really well to play winning basketball on the whole and I see why Thibodeau and Layden took a chance on him.

The game that best summarizes Okogie’s struggles alongside his overall strength was the game against Miami on January 3. The first play of the game saw Okogie get beaten to the ball on a hand-off, but the video below best summarizes why I don’t fully buy into the bad pick-and-roll data surrounding him.

The original set is designed to get Okogie a three. This is the design of the majority of the Georgia Tech sets which made sense as they had three good perimeter shooting guards. But when the play breaks down, the offense re-sets to a late shot-clock isolation drive. The issue here is not really that Okogie doesn’t make a move, but that he has two big men who are clogging the lane. The freelance motion is actually so horrendous that the two bigs actually run into each other.

One of the main knocks on Okogie is that he lacks composure in the pick-and-roll and lacks a go to move, notably a floater (he was 0-10 on floaters in 2017-18). He no doubt has plenty of work ahead of him, but plays like this are way too common when watching Georgia Tech games. Even though both of the bigs lacked a jump shot, just one of them cutting away from the paint or one of them moving to the top of the arc would have made a lot of difference.

What must be noted is that Okogie did make this shot. This is perhaps why I have faith in him; he repeatedly managed to make difficult shots in college. The issue was he simply had to make them on too many occasions. This meant his game turned into a Houdini act at times. This isn’t something he’ll have to do in Minnesota. His jump shot mechanics do impress me though, and he appears to have a natural transition through the pull-up jumper process.

Though I like his potential ability to make tough shots for the bench unit, it is very clear he does need to improve going downhill. There is no doubt that the lack of floor spacing hindered downhill success for him, but it’s clear on the tape that he leans too heavily on the pull up jumper. What makes a pull up jumper so deadly is when people are scared you’re gonna blow by them. The issue Okogie appears to have, is that people almost know he is going to pull up as you can see in the play below.

Once again the Yellow Jackets’ final read is to get the ball into Okogie’s hands. They clear space for him to attack round the outside. Not only did the drive lack pace, but it was so obvious that he was going to settle for a pull up jumper. There admittedly was only a small window for Okogie to get to the rim. Unfortunately though, plays like this are common. On this occasion his team-mates created space for him, but he didn’t take advantage of it. Being able to shoot pull up jumpers is a positive, but relying on them on every PnR action is something that the Wolves coaching staff have to get him to stop doing. The ability to make tough shots is important but in the case of Okogie it just emphasizes his limitations and the limitations of the Georgia Tech personnel last year.

Though Okogie needs to improve his downhill aggressiveness, he does excel at getting to the line. This gives me a lot of hope that he can generate that second offensive skill outside of spot-up shooting. His free-throw rate of .506 is absurdly high, and he also ranked 7th in the ACC in free-throw attempts. He didn’t necessarily thrive in the high-powered offensive role he was put in, but he did manage to generate easy buckets at the charity stripe. This is the sign of a player who has room to grow.

The most translatable skill Okogie has to the NBA is his spot-up shooting ability. His 38 percent clip from beyond the arc was the highest on his team. This is doubly impressive when you consider the fact he carried the majority of the offensive load, as shots simply weren’t handed to him on a plate like shooters on better teams.

Georgia Tech was not particularly adventurous or creative with how they used his shooting ability last season. Most of this was because they ran a three out-two in system which obviously isn’t going to create many open perimeter looks. Below is a rare open three-point catch and shoot look for him.

He times his cut away from his teammate well and drains the shot. His jump shooting stroke impresses me as he has a high, clean release which should translate well to the NBA level. Most of the three-point attempts he will likely get in his early time as an NBA player will look like this. Minnesota does not run many set plays for role playing shooters, but Okogie should be able to work alongside Butler and Wiggins in late shot clock situations.

Many are down on Okogie as a playmaker and while I don’t think he can come into the NBA and be a floor general, he could generate some points on secondary actions. My thoughts on Georgia Tech’s sets should be obvious to you by now. Despite this, Okogie was good at generating buckets when everything else seemed lost in the set. Below is a common example of one of their sets breaking down. As with most possessions, the immediate response was to give the ball to their best player.

He doesn’t have much to work with, but he manipulates the inside defender by faking a pass to the perimeter and he instead dishes it inside to Ben Lammers for the easy bucket. The set was doomed to fail from the start but he still made it work. This play summarizes my overall thoughts on Okogie’s offensive game. He was not exactly helped much, but he was still effective and he made a lot of contested jumpers and created buckets out of nothing. He still needs to improve attacking downhill, but I’m excited about his free-throw rate and his ability to make tough shots.

The Defensive Tape

When I wrote about Jacob Evans, I praised his team defense. Okogie strikes me as the opposite type of defender as most of his good defensive highlights were on the ball. It’s hard to comment on his instincts as a team defender because they ran a lot of unaggressive zone coverage and barely switched. Even when Georgia Tech did go with a man defense, Okogie was often tasked with an off-ball player rather than the lead guard. This means most of his individual plays were made defending secondary actions.

To illustrate the upside, Okogie was one of only four guards last year to average one block and 1.8 steals per game. His defensive statistics definitely impressed me more than his defensive metrics. The reality is that a lot of first-round picks are going to be made on upside, and a quick look at his defensive tape shows clear upside.

One thing Okogie can clearly do is swallow up smaller guards. His shot blocking rate was high for a guard, as I mentioned above. He has good lateral quickness and his wingspan makes it more difficult to get shots up over him.

Below is the best play I came across that illustrates why I’m excited about his defensive potential.

Okogie tracks his man on the downhill concept well, but doesn’t switch. So many defenders here would just be focusing on their man and not analyzing the concept, but Okogie reads the drive and comes across to make the block. He changes his direction quickly which illustrates his potential ferocity on the interior.

Okogie’s switching data is limited due to the defensive scheme he played in, but I think he has the potential to cause trouble for wings and guards on the interior. He is hard to get past and he has the right balance between aggressiveness and discipline.

Below is another example of his ability as an interior defender.

He rotates across and times the block on Theo Pinson perfectly. He has a good sense of where to be on the interior, and you just don’t see this type of thing from many College guards. Minnesota don’t run many switches. Many don’t like this as it’s an example of Tom Thibodeau sticking to his old system. I do think Minnesota are schematically dated on both sides of the ball, but having a shot blocking guard could do wonders for the system.

Okogie may struggle against bigger players, but this shouldn’t be much of an issue. He has the natural athleticism to be able to physically match up to guards and smaller wings from day one. His intelligence will be important, but just having the raw skills is the first step to surviving in the modern NBA. It is very unclear whether Okogie can have the Marcus Smart-like impact on defense in the sense that posting him up is not a mismatch, but the physical tools are absolutely there.

Okogie’s most impressive asset was denying penetration to guards. The Wolves give up a ridiculous amount of penetration to opponent guards which is one of the many reasons for their abomination of a defensive rating.

The play below is the sort of thing that jumped out to me on tape.

A lot of teams like to set up a quick transition drive because most defenders don’t set themselves early. Louisville attempt to do this but Okogie has good footwork and although he does give up leverage originally, he recovers and forces an erratic shot. This is the sort of play you saw him make regularly last season.

He was sometimes criticized for a lack of effort but I didn’t see this in the games I watched. He sometimes got caught in screens but he always fought through them and regained a good perimeter position. The only lack of effort that was visible to me was in transition. It was not always the case as he does have some spectacular transition blocks, but there were times when he gave up after a missed shot. For the most part though, his drive and determination was clearly very high.

The game against Virginia on February 21 was perhaps the biggest illustration of this. Virginia’s offense is one of, if not the best designed in College Basketball. The game was also pivotal because Georgia Tech used man defense for most of the game. Virginia use a lot of wing screens to free-up shooters and drivers, and teams often just switch against them to try and maintain some kind of defensive structure. What was noticeable throughout this game was that Okogie retained his composure throughout the game. Virginia were moving him everywhere but he held his own.

Okogie was tasked with guarding Kyle Guy in this game for the majority of the possessions. Guy averaged 13 attempts per game for the whole season which was the most on the Virginia team. Okogie held him to just eight field goal attempts on the night. He was rarely used to defend the lead ball handler but he usually matched up well to off-ball scorers. Guy was supposed to be the main beneficiary of Tony Bennett’s famous ‘mover blocker’ system. In this particular instance, Okogie held his own and put his man defense on another level. None of the plays he made were spectacular, but he was consistently good in this game. Unfortunately his team-mates allowed other Virginia players to thrive.

Get Excited, Wolves fans

For the most part I have been critical of the Thibodeau-Layden dual front-office era. Cap hell combined with a reluctance to target modern NBA players has been disappointing. With that being said, they absolutely hit a home run in this draft. At the time of the selection I was not that enamored with the Okogie pick. After watching his tape, I came away very impressed. He played smart offense when the scheme was really designed for him to play hero ball. He performed admirably as a creator and a lead scorer with two non-shooting bigs on the floor for the most of the time. His shot selection gets criticized but it’s clear from watching the Georgia Tech offense that he was asked to create from a standstill position far too often. He won’t be required to do this in Minnesota, and his spot-up shooting ability will be welcomed.

Defensively he looks to be the type who will make things miserable for bench guards due to his lateral quickness and monstrous wingspan. The team defense was hard to gauge on tape due to the prevalence of zone defense and a lack of switching. He does though look to be a good shot blocking guard, and this could extend into him being an all-round team defender. He fights on every possession and his potential ability as an inside defender should excite people.

On the whole, Minnesota simply needs contributions from rookies early. The lack of certainty surrounding the futures of Jamal Crawford and Nemanja Bjelica combined with the lack of obvious D-League promotion candidates means Josh Okogie could find himself thrust into an early role. Based on my tape study, I’d back him to hold his own.

If he does things such as this, he could develop into a cult hero.