Josh Okogie's Road to All-Star Weekend

Josh Okogie has provided a sense of energy and defense that the Timberwolves desperately needed. He has proven that he was the right draft pick for Minnesota and has earned a spot in the Rising Stars Game.

Josh Okogie has been an absolute delight for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since day one he has played with a sense of joy and energy that is infectious. Sometimes this untamed energy leads to recklessness, but overall, it has been a positive for the Timberwolves.

Okogie’s rookie season has been as dramatic as possible. At the start of the year, Okogie’s role was mismanaged. He would fluctuate between playing 30 minutes a game to not playing at all to only playing in garbage time. He endured the Jimmy Butler saga, inconsistent playing time, and coaching changes. Despite this obscurity, Okogie always played hard and produced. As the season has progressed, Okogie has proven his value, earned significant playing time, and been awarded a well-earned spot in the Rising Stars Game.

Okogie has been one of the NBA's most productive rookies this year. His energy at both ends of the floor is obvious, but he has consistently improved on the little things. Okogie has some obvious flaws, but his game fits in this high paced NBA.

Defense

Okogie's biggest impact comes on the defensive end of the floor. The Timberwolves have struggled all year with their perimeter defense, mainly due to their number of injuries, but Okogie’s frenetic energy has been a lone bright spot. He has a special ability to disrupt the opponent’s offense. Per Cleaning the Glass, Okogie’s steal rate of 1.8 percent ranks him in the 83rd percentile among guards and his block rate of .7 percent ranks him in the 78th percentile. His athleticism and energy are often too much for opponents to handle.

In the below clip, we see how Okogie utilizes his foot speed and quick hands to force turnovers. He is matched up against one of the best scorers in the league, Russell Westbrook. As Westbrook drives towards the middle of the floor, Okogie does a great job of moving his feet and cutting off the drive without fouling. As Westbrook crosses back over the ball becomes visible for a split second. Okogie sticks his hand in and forces the turnover by poking the loose ball to Tyus Jones to start the fast break, where Okogie runs the floor and finishes a tough layup.

Even better than Okogie’s on-ball defense, his off-ball defense is where he’s been able to force more steals. Throughout the year, he has done a nice job of increasing his defensive awareness and recognizing opponent’s plays. The below clip is emblematic of Okogie's recognition and athleticism. Okogie is at the top of the picture as Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors run a pick-and-roll. As Favors slips the screen, Gorgui Dieng over-commits on the Ingles drive which leaves Favors wide open for a lob. Okogie recognizes that Favors is about to have an easy dunk and makes a great rotation to intercept the lob and take it out of Favors' hands.

 

Besides this steal being a great athletic feat, it is also an impressive display of Okogie’s defensive IQ. He recognizes that Dieng has over committed immediately so he begins hedging towards the lane. Instead of making the full rotation right away, he waits for just a second for Ingles to commit to the lob. If Okogie would have made the rotation before Ingles committed, his man would have been left wide open for a three.

Okogie’s ability to rotate and anticipate these opportunities have also made him a good shot blocker. Thanks to Cleaning the Glass we already know that Okogie is one of the better shot blocking guards in the NBA. A lot of Okogie’s blocks come at the rim from rotations or as he’s recovering. As impressive as those are, you can essentially picture them yourself. Instead, I want to go over a play that encapsulates all the positive traits of Okogie’s defense we’ve covered.

The below clip is one of the most impressive defensive plays you’ll see. Okogie is matched up on Brandon Ingram at the top of the arc. Okogie then fights through not one, but two consecutive JaVale McGee screens. Ingram gets Okogie on his hip as he starts his drive, but Okogie is quick enough to recover and cuts off Ingram’s drive. Deterred by Okogie’s relentlessness, Ingram takes a side dribble to pull up for a mid-range jumper. Ingram has five inches on Okogie, not to mention his freakish wingspan, so you would think Ingram shouldn’t have any issue getting off the shot. Okogie disagrees. He stays tight on Ingram which forces Ingram to fade away and not elevate much - unlike Okogie, who blocks the shot.

 

By using his defensive IQ to recognize the appropriate rotations, he puts himself in the opportune position to use his athleticism and disrupt opponents.

Offense

When analyzing Okogie’s game, the frustration sets in once you get to his offense. Okogie generally has a solid shot selection as 57.3 percent of his shots are considered open and 74 percent of his shots come either at the rim or from beyond the arc. This distribution is encouraging, but the execution just hasn’t been there. Okogie is shooting just 25.4 percent from three and 56 percent at the rim.

Okogie’s offensive struggles are exacerbated by his shaky ball handling and limited passing ability. The result has been Okogie spending most of his time away from the ball. When Tom Thibodeau was the coach, Okogie appeared to be ordered to just stand in the corner for the whole possession and not do much outside of that. This put a clear limitation on Okogie’s offensive development and didn’t utilize any of his strengths; he is shooting just 27 percent on corner threes, so putting him in the corner doesn't help the offense.

Okogie goes through flashes of being able to knock down three-pointers but has struggled to produce any consistency as a result of his shooting form. In the below clip we get a nice side view of that form. As Okogie gathers, there aren’t any issues with his feet or hips. His form is fluid and isn’t segmented or choppy. The issues come with his release. He does a nice job of keeping his right elbow in and under the ball, but he releases the shot too far out in front of him. This results in more of a push shot. His arc and accuracy are often affected by this and it is a big reason why his shot has struggled.

 

To be fair to Okogie, the offensive genius that is Tom Thibodeau was using him in the wrong way. Since Ryan Saunders took over, Okogie has been put in motion more and been asked to linger in the corner less. Okogie’s tendency to recognize cutting lanes has increased which is how he should be used. Instead of hoping that his form corrects itself in the middle of the season, the focus should be on utilizing his athleticism and ability to get to the rim. Okogie is a good cutter and that is where his offensive focus should be, despite his struggles to finish at the rim this season.

In this clip, we see an example of Okogie’s well-timed cut. As Jeff Teague drives baseline, Okogie notices that Danny Green has turned his back and lost track of Okogie. Okogie takes advantage by bolting towards the paint where he finishes with a finger roll.

 

Even if Okogie doesn’t receive the ball, the threat of his cutting puts pressure on the defense. The below clip shows the amount of attention he can draw which creates opportunities for his teammates. Karl-Anthony Towns has improved tremendously as a post-passer this year so cutting off his post-ups has become more common. As Towns posts up, the paint is left wide open. Okogie sprints to the middle of the paint. This simple move draws the attention of both weakside defenders who immediately collapse on him. Towns is able to make the cross-court pass to Jerryd Bayless for a wide open three. Without this movement from Okogie, the Timberwolves likely don’t end up with this quality look.

 

Going Forward

This season Okogie has been one of the most exciting rookies in the league, earned an increased workload, and has been rewarded with a spot in the Rising Stars Game during All-Star weekend. So, going forward, what does Okogie need to do to continue his development?

The biggest area of focus for Okogie needs to be his shooting. If Okogie can turn into just a league average shooter, he will become infinitely more valuable. Opponents won’t be able to sag off him so much and he will add a valuable piece to his team’s offense. Any threat of an outside shot will also open driving lanes for Okogie to get to the rim.

Okogie has a ton of potential to turn into a productive two-way guard for the Timberwolves. His work rate is through the roof and his defensive impact is already palpable. His ability to develop a more consistent offensive game is vital for how the rest of his career progresses.

For the rest of this season though, focus on how Okogie continues to position himself on both ends of the floor. Watch for his well-timed cuts and defensive positioning. Instead of letting his shooting frustrate you, let his reckless dunks and acrobatic layups excite you. Josh Okogie isn’t the best rookie of this draft class but he is one of the most exciting.

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