• Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be studying the tape and breaking down the game of young prospects from around the globe!

    For all of you who followed us throughout the summer you probably noticed that I was very high on Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the No. 20 pick in a very deep draft class, and I had no problem to actually flat out call him a potential steal of the draft even though he wasn’t expected to get too many minutes in his rookie season.

    A prototypical 3-and-D player coming out of an impressive career year at Georgia Tech, he played a whopping 32.5 minutes per game in Summer League where he was all over the floor, creating some buzz mainly due to his defensive stats (2.3 steals and 2.0 blocks per game).

    After failing to see the court in the Wolves’ first few games, a Jimmy Butler “rest day” and a minor injury to Andrew Wiggins forced Tom Thibodeau to throw him in the lineup and the young gun has responded pretty well so far while signs about his fantasy upside in the long run are already visible.

    Slowly Rising to the Occasion

    Okogie was a relatively unknown prospect until he entered the 2018 NBA Combine where he put up some impressive numbers. And even though a good performance at the combine does not indicate success at the highest level, his performance impressed the scouts and pushed him up draft boards from a possible second-round pick to a first-round status due to his athletic ability and relentless effort.

    The little things that made Okogie shine in pre-draft workouts were his defense, his toughness, his length and the shooting potential. The Nigerian-born rookie had a very impressive career at Georgia Tech, becoming just the sixth player in school history to surpass 1,000 points by the end of his sophomore year while ranking fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 18.2 points per game as a sophomore.

    Translation to the NBA Level

    Okogie might be only 6’4” but he makes up for it with strong 207 pound frame and a reported 7’0” wingspan. He is a big time athlete and recorded some of the best athleticism testing numbers of all the NBA Combine participants, leading the tournament in max vertical leap and three-quarter sprint, and finishing near the top in standing vertical. Look at how the Raptors totally miss on boxing him out as he erupts for the impressive put back dunk.

    As expected, he plays a loose, fearless, attacking brand of basketball and is able to drive into the paint, use his frame to absorb contact and effectively earn fouls (he averaged almost seven free throw attempts per game in both his college years). Doing this at the NBA level will obviously be harder and Okogie will have to adjust to the level of athleticism and defense he will face as there will be bigger bodies that guard him on a night to night basis. Just look at how Kawhi Leonard eats him alive as he uses a quick first step and drives to the basket only to get blocked by one of the best defenders in the game.

    Questionable Feel, but can Score

    Okogie didn’t initiate much draft hype throughout the last couple seasons playing for the Yellow Jackets, but his combination of tools and production from the wing position make him a very valuable commodity at the NBA level. His shooting looked a little suspicious during the summer but I’m inclined to say that there are plenty of positive indicators with his form even though his release speed is smooth yet slow. And the biggest determinant of his NBA future will obviously be the ability to knock down his shots as a secondary option in a loaded Wolves offense. His field goal percentage is sitting at just 34.4 for the season after three games as teams are obviously challenging him to take the open looks. Here is Okogie calmly nailing the jumper on a night where he went 1-for-6 from behind the arc.

    The rookie played some point guard out of necessity in college and has developed some ball handling skills as he can bring the ball up the floor and attack the rim off the bounce in the half court. His decision making needs to improve and he is not a great passer or a guy that facilitates offense for others. And playing for a team that doesn’t generate a lot of ball movement, it’s essential that he continues to work on his drive and dish game. Okogie had a ton of of defensive attention in college, but he still managed to create shots for himself and teammates due to his athleticism and aggressiveness and this might lead to him becoming a secondary option for an NBA team in a few years. Until then, he likely profiles as a 3-and-D guy who can attack closeouts well with burst and vision. Okogie was a tremendous shooter in catch-and-shoot situations in college and he seems to understand when he needs to take a shot and when he has to drive to the basket. Look at him recognizing a slight opening and using an explosive first step to drive to the basket:

    Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a wide array of finishing moves in pick-and-roll situations and doesn’t do much to create offense other than a straight-line drive with his dominant right hand, so it seems unlikely at this point that he will be a pure scorer in the NBA but playing off-ball will suit him fine if he can knock down 3-pointers. Getting to the line frequently will also not be easy at the pro level and his foul rate in college might have been misleading as he got fouled a lot in transition and not so much in half-court settings.

    Defensive Potential Through the Roof

    Taking a look on the other side of the court, the Georgia Tech product is slippery getting through screens and he possesses the quickness and length to make life tough for his similarly-sized counterparts. In a league where everyone looks to switch on defense, he’ll have to adjust to guarding bigger guys, but as a primary defender against opposing guards, he has proven to be a quality option from day one since his wingspan makes it more difficult to get shots up over him.

    He’ll obviously have to work on the mental side of the defense though as he reaches more often than referees will tolerate, being called for five personal fouls in his NBA debut last week.

    I’ve already noticed how the rookie has adjusted to Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes that emphasize on loading the paint and being a great closeout team. Most of the time the point is to force the offensive player to drive towards the help and here is a great example of effectively executing this strategy. Okogie sticks with C.J. Miles after the screen from Serge Ibaka and allows him to drive to the basket where Karl-Anthony Towns slowly recognizes the situation and provides great help defense by blocking his shot.

    The hustle, the energy and the upside are absolutely there and Okogie was one of only four guards last year to average 1.0 block and 1.8 steals per game. Defensive stats are always impressive but don’t tell the entire truth and for starters, you shouldn’t expect him to average a block per game – at least in his rookie season. I do believe that his steal rate is sustainable as he is active at all times and will be able to intercept plenty of passes with his active hands. Look at him intercepting a lazy pass from Victor Oladipo and taking the ball all the way to the other side of the court for the easy dunk.

    Demeanor, Work Ethic, and Thibs’ Trust

    While Thibs usually sticks with his veterans and doesn’t play his rookies much he is not entirely against it. “You have to settle on a nine-man rotation, so right now he’s not in it,” the Wolves coach said last Friday. And Okogie above all is a smart kid and he was absolutely prepared for such a scenario. “It’s not something that I knew, but I wasn’t surprised,” Okogie said. “Coach is going to play to win, and I knew Jimmy (Butler) came back and I already knew minutes were going to get skewed one way or the other, so I wasn’t surprised at all.”

    Okogie is a rare kid with the humility and intelligence to understand where he landed and he clearly wasn’t overly upset about not being a part of the rotation at the beginning of the season. That doesn’t that he didn’t prepare himself accordingly. “Wherever I’m at, whether I’m playing or I’m on the bench, I’m just going to give energy, give it all I have and just be there for my teammates.”

    Thibodeau reiterated during the offseason that he loves the approach that both Okogie and fellow rookie Keita Bates-Diop have displayed throughout training camp. He keeps his rookies on a short leash but it’s clear that Okogie has the skills and the mental toughness to survive in what looks like a very unorthodox situation in Minnesota, at least until Jimmy Butler gets dealt. A lot will depend upon the return the Wolves will receive but the rookie has already showed glimpses of his talent and he is someone that will excite the fan base in Minnesota for years to come.

    Thank you for reading and please don’t hesitate to let us know about an international prospect that you would want to learn more about in the next few weeks. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of October 26.

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