When the franchise entered a familiar dark period early in the season, his radiance was even easier to see. At 20-years-old, he provided a fresh burst of potential that his roster desperately craved.
Most of the acclaim the former Georgia Tech product received was for his technique, energy, and want-to on the defensive end. For good reason. Entering a team that has finished in the bottom five in defensive efficiency for the past four seasons, any sort of defensive stopgap brought a smile to the face of every fan.
57 games into a rookie season that has been plagued with inconsistent minutes and Okogie has proved himself as more than a guy who can do a little bit of defending. He is an animal on the effort-based end of the floor. Outside of Jaren Jackson Jr., he has a hefty claim as the sharpest defensive mind in a loaded draft class.
Wondering why Timberwolves faithful are so high on Josh Okogie?— Jake Paynting (@jakepaynting) March 6, 2019
Try this on for size: pic.twitter.com/NySC07kTWo
For all the deserved plaudits he has garnered defensively, there has been just as many complaints about Okogie’s ultra-raw offensive game. However, as the season has progressed, and he has collected more consistent minutes, Okogie has quietly started to show incremental improvements.
One of the most noticeable skill sets he has displayed recently is his passing. In the early portions of the season, Okogie rarely made the right call when he was faced with an opportunity to drive the ball.
Instead of calmly sifting his way to the rim as he would like, Okogie entered the league with a penchant for out of control dribbling and wild layup attempts. As of late, the game seems to have started to slow down, and the number of successful drive-and-dish buckets he has contributed to has dramatically increased.
As you can see from the collection of clips above, Okogie has some genuinely exciting and unseen passing chops. Even with his raw finishing ability, the ferocity in which he attacks the rim almost always draws shot-blockers toward him. Instead of beating his head against the wall by trying to finish over or through the trees, the rookie has begun feeding his big men as soon as their opponent zones off.
He struggles to finish at the rim at a sufficient level, which will hopefully change as he grows into his potential, but his passing development gives Okogie a serviceable skill when heading downhill.
Another area of minor improvement that fans should be thrilled about is how quickly Okogie has molded his shot selection to fit into the mold of a modern day wing. Especially with how long they have suffered Andrew Wiggins’ stubbornness to change that part of his game.
After being tethered to Tom Thibodeau’s bench to start the season, he used his first taste of consistent NBA minutes to display just how out of his depth he was when he got the ball. Instead of taking open triples, he would often pump-fake, drive into no man’s land, and jack up an off-balance mid-range clunker.
In his first 45 games of the season, Okogie was averaging 1.1 of these mid-range madness attempts per night. Since then (14 games) he is putting up just 0.6 a game, per NBA.com. With the least efficient shot in the game being tossed by the wayside, it has allowed the rookie guard to laser his focus in on getting to the rim and jacking up 3’s. He may not be overly effective at either yet, but he has given himself the best chance to develop a coherent offensive game with the changes he has made.
In-season offensive improvements have been a must for Okogie, but he has only just passed the first mile in what needs to be a marathon worth of offensive refinement. There are two obvious areas he needs to spend every day of the fast-approaching offseason working on 3-point shooting and ball-handling.
There have been far too many games this season that Okogie could have posted solid point totals if he could just convert a couple of the open triples he gets each night. He has become better and better at spotting up and re-positioning himself around the arc, but none of that matters if you’re going to brick the majority of your attempts.
By all reports, there are few players in the Timberwolves’ ranks that get up as many shots as Okogie does in practice and before games, which is a great sign. Consistent reps are what make good shooters great and poor shooters into league average ones. Josh Okogie desperately needs to become the latter.
Just like the shooting, more time dribbling the basketball in high-pressure situations will inevitably lead to a furtherance in his ball-handling abilities. Okogie often loses his handle simply because his brain and body is going way too fast for his skill level. He is like a rabid hyena chasing his prey when he gets out in the open floor, but his lack of control has hurt him to many times to count this season.
As he gets more comfortable with his game and NBA-level basketball starts to slow down for him, it’s almost a certainty that JO becomes at least semi-reliable when putting the ball on the deck. If he can do that, he will quickly elevate himself into a new tier offensively and move past the point of being an offensive burden, like he is a lot of the time right now.
He has a knack for skying for defensive boards or picking the pocket of opposing ball-handlers, which can both lead to fastbreak opportunities. With his speed and above-the-rim athleticism, all Okogie needs is a decent handle to be able to punish defenses consistently on the break.
If Okogie can implement a couple of new strings to his offensive bow while simultaneously growing the parts of his game that he has already begun improving, he can be a very steady presence on offense. When you factor in the maniacal work rate and all-defensive team technique he brings to the other end of the floor, he has a chance to blow the roof off his potential.
Now, it’s time to put it all together.