The modern NBA has evolved in favor of long and athletic wings who can shoot and defend. Look at the rosters that Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and even Orlando are assembling. Opposing teams’ attempts to pass through a sea of hands is often futile as the ball is stolen or deflected harmlessly out of bounds.
Tom Thibodeau said at the end of the 2018 season that the Timberwolves were going to put a greater emphasis on the 3-point shot, which also means adapting to the current state of the league. The Wolves’ 22.5 3-point attempts were the fewest in the league — but the Wolves were 18th in 3-point efficiency. It’s likely the efficiency would’ve dipped with more attempts but we never got to find out.
The other facet of the modern wing is to be able to defend multiple positions. In fact, positions are more ambiguous than ever now. If you’re a point or shooting guard, you’re a ball handler. If you’re a small forward or a shooting guard, you’re now a wing. A combo forward is likely a stretch forward and so on.
Needless to say, the Wolves didn’t have many of these wings. Jimmy Butler brought the defense but scored without much range. Andrew Wiggins has the potential to become an ideal modern wing but hasn’t realized that potential. Otherwise, Jamal Crawford was the prototypical gunner off of the bench and Thibodeau couldn’t find a use for his wings from Iowa.
Thursday’s NBA Draft was a test for the organization. Were they going to select or otherwise acquire a 3-and-D player or postpone that search until free agency?
It didn’t take long to get our answer. With the 20th pick, the Timberwolves chose guard Josh Okogie out of Georgia Tech.
Okogie stands 6-foot-4 with a 7-foot wingspan. He switched well onto multiple positions against ACC competition. According to NBA.com’s scouting report, Okogie uses his long arms to clog passing lanes for deflections and possesses some shot-blocking instincts. Skills like rebounding and shot blocking tend to transfer well from college to the pros. Perhaps it’s because these abilities are often innate rather than a byproduct of pure athleticism.
When Thibodeau traded Kris Dunn to Chicago, it seems like he really missed having a perimeter defender who can lock down multiple positions. In fact, if it’s any indication, Okogie should still see the court if he struggles offensively as long he defends.
The concern with Okogie is on offense. NBA.com called him a “raw, athletic talent” which seems strange for a playoff team. His shooting percentage dropped from 45 to 41 percent as a sophomore. Oddly, it was his 2-point shot that’s in question. He shot 46.8 percent as a freshman and 43.2 percent as a sophomore from within the arc. Moreover, some have attributed this to a poor shot selection and shot mechanics. These things can be fixable but not usually overnight.
Looking at highlight clips of Okogie, he seems to use his physical tools well in transition and has a nose for getting to the basket on the roll. Again, that’s something that is expected of today’s wing.
But what people will want to know is can he make 3-pointers? Yes. Well, maybe. We don’t know. Okogie’s body of work as a shooter at Georgia Tech was a mixed bag. We know he may need to improve his shooting mechanics and refine his shot selection within the arc but he was a decent shooter in college. Okogie drilled 38 percent of his 3-pointers at the college level in both of his collegiate seasons.
While you like to see that level of consistency, 38 percent is fairly average in today’s NBA. If he is a reliable shooter and defender, they’ll live with that. But if Okogie wants to be great he’ll have to improve his shot. Should his shot release be slow or inefficient, he may struggle to replicate his 3-point efficiency at the NBA level. If that means his 3-point percentage drops to 35 or 33 percent, it’s even less valuable.
While he shot the trey well as a Sophomore, he connected on just 36.2 percent against ACC foes last season. This stands out so far from the rest of the sample that it’s either a fluke or a red flag. We won’t know until Okogie gets more experience and the sample gets larger, unfortunately.
Okogie’s fit appears like it could be great. The Wolves desperately need shooting, a perimeter defender, and they need it cheap. Okogie could potentially check all three of these boxes some day. It seems that the Wolves have at least taken a quick glance at the rest of the league and seen what they lack.
The big concern is how much Thibodeau will play him or any young player. Whether Thibodeau didn’t trust the bench or they struggled, the bench didn’t play very much. A big determinant of how much Okogie will play will be what they do in free agency.
Playing time will also be determined by how much Okogie can do right away and how much he picks up along the way. If his shot is more problematic than expected, he’s probably not going to be best suited to play with Tyus Jones, Gorgui Dieng, and another non-scoring player. But if he can defend, there will always be a reason to have him on the floor. At 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, he could probably defend positions 2-4 capably. He’s long enough to disrupt bigger players and big enough not to get backed down by other guards.
This positional versatility is something the Wolves lack, especially up front. Taj Gibson and Dieng aren’t guys you want defending often on the perimeter but they can play inside. A tandem of Okogie and Butler could give the Wolves a pesky perimeter defense.
The concern is, of course, that the Wolves’ midrange-centric offense will only play to Okogie’s weakness. After all, Andrew Wiggins has been criticized for loving long 2-pointers too much and for having a lack of discernment with his shot. In addition, the Wolves take more midrange jumpers than anyone. Thibodeau needs to ensure that Okogie isn’t reinforcing bad habits and that he’s getting the ball in a position to succeed.
As with all rookies, it’s best to temper expectations. There’s some concern with Okogie but there is also a lot to like as well. This is one of the few moves that the Wolves have made that show a focus on the mentality of the modern NBA.