In a season without much good news, Josh Okogie was a pleasant surprise for the Timberwolves last year. Selected No. 20 overall in the 2018 NBA draft, the guard provided two things past Wolves teams often lacked: defense and energy.
Okogie made the types of defensive plays that got fans excited. Remember that blockbuster rejection of James Harden that lit Target Center on fire?
So, he has shown he has the raw ability and the motor to be an impact player in the NBA. The next step may be mental.
“Last year I was preparing pretty hard, and I was … doing what the team needed, playing with a lot of energy,” Okogie said. “This year I’m going to play with a little more focus, both offensively and defensively; not not just play, but play hard and smart and make sure I’m efficient in everything I’m going through.”
He may be coming off his rookie season, but Okogie feels he’s entering his third season after he played in Summer League for the Wolves and then spent a good chunk of the remaining offseason with the Nigerian national team preparing for and competing in the FIBA World Cup
The guard was as aggressive as ever on the defensive end during international competition, but also made plays for others and shot the ball well from deep, hitting 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“I was able to learn a lot,” Okogie said. “Being able to take what I learned and learn from it, and kinda use that to what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve already been applying stuff that I learned this summer through Nigeria and Summer League to this season.”
Serving as more of a go-to guy for both Nigeria and the Wolves’ Summer League squad forced Okogie to do more thinking. Particularly in the international game, where opposing defenses can plant centers under the hoop — which makes attacking the rim all the more difficult — Okogie had to make quicker decisions and rely more on his outside shot.
“Now I feel like I’m very effective in those areas,” he said. “I still have a lot of improvement to do, and I’m not gonna act like 100 percent, but I definitely took a step in the right direction.”
Okogie noted players must constantly add to their games to stay “relevant,” but at the same time Minnesota doesn’t want the wing to lose sight of who he is as a player. The hustle plays and the energy define Okogie, and are what make him so valuable.
“We just want Josh to continue to be who he is, but hone some of those natural things that he does,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “If he just continues to grow the way he grew last year, the way we saw him grow this summer with Nigeria and playing in Summer League, he’ll be very good and he’ll have a great second season. But with that, we want to make sure he’s not looking too far ahead and he’s not looking to say, ‘Hey, I started a number of games, now I’m looking to do this and do that,’ where we just want him to be the best Josh Okogie he can be.”
That involves simple things such as Okogie picking his spots for when to attack in transition and being in the correct positions on offense and defense.
“At this point, I’m just trying to be able to provide everything I can for this team,” Okogie said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to be the best that I can be every time on the court.”