Welcome to another Monday in Wolvesdom, where today’s top story has nothing to do with rumors or drama. Instead, I come to deliver good news: the Rookies in the North have looked quite promising in the Desert.
The Summer Wolves have started 1-1 in the preliminary round, led by draft picks Josh Okogie (20) and Keita Bates-Diop (48). The team lost a close one to Denver on Friday night before beating Toronto yesterday afternoon, and their final preliminary game is at 10:00 pm (CT) vs. Brooklyn at the Cox Pavilion tonight. You can watch on ESPNU.
Since my itch to see more from Okogie and Bates-Diop is very real, I will probably be making the unwise choice of drinking a late-night cup of coffee to help me stay awake. The rookies have been impressive through two games, all things considered.
I don’t worry about shot making as much as other traits in Summer League, due to all of the iso-ball being played. A lot of these prospects simply won’t be asked to carry the scoring load once the real thing roles around in October and that’s certainly going to be the case for Okogie and Bates-Diop. They will be asked by Thibs to play hard, defend, and space the floor. That’s the only way they are going to see the court next season.
While Okogie’s offense has largely been a mess, with a few booming bright spots in between, he’s shown an unrelenting motor on both sides of the ball and appears to be a defensive bulldog that reminds me a bit of our old friend (at least briefly) Kris Dunn. Not because their games are similar but because I literally can’t come up with many Wolves rookies that have shown this much effort and skill on that end over all these years.
The downside to his game? Okogie has been putting his head down and attacking the basket with the tunnel vision of Shabazz Muhammad, mostly making his life a living hell trying to finish at the rim. I’d like to see more creating out of these drives as the games go on. But his aggressiveness is also encouraging and seeing him go from five turnovers in the first game to zero in the second felt like a positive sign. The offense is going to take time with him. His handle obviously needs work and right now he’s driving purely with the intention to score, but the good clearly outweighs the bad in my eyes.
#Timberwolves rookie Josh Okogie says when his shot isn’t falling like in today’s game, he knows he can still find other ways to contribute #AllEyesNorth #NBASummerLeague @FOX9 @Fox9Sports pic.twitter.com/YFwB6dV6Vo— Pierre Noujaim (@TheNoujFOX9) July 8, 2018
I was thinking about this on Friday night as Obi-Wan Okogie was making jaw-dropping defensive plays: What if Okogie simply takes Jamal Crawford’s role from a season ago? But instead of being a chucker who doesn’t play any defense, he can be a super low usage wing who only focuses on defending his ass off.
Okogie was drafted for his 3-and-D upside and he’s already made more defensive plays through two games than we are used to seeing from rookies in Minnesota. His defensive motor is insane. Is this real life or just a dream? It kind of feels like NBA Inception because watching a Wolves prospect give this much shit on defense doesn’t seem like reality. He’s in a defensive stance! He actually cares!
Okogie basically just LeBron’d a dude— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) July 8, 2018
There have been few rookies that have impressed me on the defensive end like Okogie has, and we’ve been talking about finding Do Shit Wings at Canis since forever.
I know it’s Only Summer league, but I hope everyone can forgive me for my Josh Okogie enthusiasm due to how few players like this have come through the 612. His wingspan gives opposing guards serious problems and he slides his feet and fights through screens really well. It’s tough to get past him in isolation situations. He gives max effort and has shown strong instincts as a help defender, reading and reacting quickly to what’s happening. This is all at the age of 19 to boot. (He turns 20 on September 1.)
When Okogie said “wingspan helps a lot, you can kind of be in two places at once,” during his introduction press conference, well, he is showing how true that is.
As for KBD, his first game was modest. Nine points and seven rebounds on 11 shots (two end of clock threes) with four bad turnovers. He was rushing things and didn’t look comfortable with the ball. He also got cut on the eye and had to leave the game to get it cleaned up. There wasn’t tons to get hyped about besides his size and wingspan.
I guess that cut must have pissed him off all Saturday in Vegas because he looked dominant on Sunday afternoon. After officially signing a contract with the club for three years, KBD looked sharp in his second showing. Final stat line: 24 points (7-15), 11 rebounds, two dimes, two blocks, one steal, and four turnovers.
“We think he’s just scratching the surface.” -Thibs on Keita Bates-Diop— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) July 8, 2018
Bates-Diop uses his length quite well to bother shooters and his wingspan helps him get shots off on the perimeter with ease. He has done a nice job of going vertical when contesting shots, leading to a couple of blocks. His jumper looked smooth in the second game and the rebounding should translate.
KBD moves well up and down the court for his size, though right now it seems obvious that he’s best suited as a scoring stretch 4 (who can play some defense!). There’s a good chance he doesn’t move quick enough laterally or handle the ball well enough to get minutes at the three, but I also wouldn’t completely rule out some BIG BULLY BALL lineups with him there down the road.
Overall feeling: DAMN he look polished on Sunday. I think he’s going to be a sweet catch-and-shoot 4 with rim protecting chops after some NBA seasoning. Professor Big Shots (Big Shorts in Utah!) will be missed, but Anthony Tolliver and KBD give the team [Thibs voice] More Than Enough at the 4 behind Taj Gibson.
Drew M. wants to know why KBD fell to pick 48. It seems his Twitter audience as already enlightened him, but if anyone else here at Canis wants to further educate Drew on such things...
Can someone please enlighten me on why Keita Bates-Diop was available at No. 48 overall for the Wolves? There has to be some catch right cause no way a guy that good is just left on the board that long for no reason— Drew Mahowald (@DrewMahowald) July 8, 2018
Final notes on the Summer Wolves:
- Amile Jefferson deserves an NBA contract with someone given how talented of a rebounder and crafty finisher he is, but the Wolves need more shooters. With the way the league has gone small-ball heavy (and with Thibs’ comments on Jimmy Butler playing more of the 4 this season, on multiple occasions) I’m not sure that Jefferson, as excellent as he has been, is the best fit for one of the last roster spots. I certainly wouldn’t be mad if they opted to sign him to a minimum deal because it’s clear he knows what he’s doing on the hardwood, but I wonder if they would be better off plucking another shooter and another prospect in the combo forward mold instead. The good thing about Summer League is everyone is out there auditioning for a contract. The Wolves can find one of these guys on another roster (if they want to).
- Point guard Jared Terrell signed a two-way contract with the club pretty shortly after the draft. The front office clearly saw something they liked in his two pre-draft workouts. He’s short and stocky (6′3” /216 lbs) and has shot 8-18 with 18 points, five rebs, two assists, three steals and only one turnover in two games. I haven’t been terribly impressed with his all-around floor game. He seems like a gunner looking to get buckets. We’ll see if he has more to his game in the next few contests.
- Okogie stocks: 8 / KBD stocks: 5
Time for a tune to end this post.