Minnesota Timberwolves: Josh Okogie’s path to improvement

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - JANUARY 09: Josh Okogie #20 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dribbles the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - JANUARY 09: Josh Okogie #20 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dribbles the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

How can Minnesota Timberwolves wing Josh Okogie take his play to the next level? Here are the keys to becoming an elite 3-and-D wing.

This fall, Minnesota Timberwolves wing Josh Okogie will be entering his third season in the NBA. He has the all the tools to be an elite 3-and-D wing and is poised to breakout if he can improve in three areas of his game: 3-point shooting, paint scoring, and on-ball defense.

The first thing, and the most glaring issue, is his 3-point shooting. Okogie entered the league shooting 38.2 percent from deep over two years at Georgia Tech. During the 2017-18 campaign with the Yellow Jackets, he even attempted 4.2 three points per game. He also had individual games shooting 4 of 9, 3 of 9, and 4 of 10 from deep.

Coming out of college, Okogie certainly appeared to have a proven shooting touch. As it turns out, he simply needs to focus on finding and hitting the open shots.

As a pro, Okogie has shot 2.7 attempts per game over his two years with the Timberwolves and is shooting 27.4 percent, leaving plenty of room to improve.

Part of this improvement will come from positioning. If you look at his advanced stats as a member of the Timberwolves, 73 percent of his 3-point attempts came after taking between two and six dribbles and 64.3 percent came in the last seven seconds of the shot clock.

Okogie needs to focus on setting himself and allowing Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell kick the ball out to hit him in open spots, rather than dribbling to the corner. Look no further than Klay Thompson’s famous 43-point performance off of four dribbles.

Am I comparing Josh Okogie to Klay Thompson? Absolutely not. Do I think Okogie could learn from Thompson’s shot selection? Without a doubt.

Let’s take a look at another well-known 3-and-D wing, Trevor Ariza. Ariza didn’t surpass 36 percent shooting until his ninth season in the league. While modern basketball teams are less willing to wait on someone developing a deep ball, there are already positive signs in regards to Okogie’s 3-point shooting: 50.4 percent of his attempts come with four-plus feet of space from the defender.

The open shots are there, and if Okogie sets himself up in the proper place look for him to start knocking them down at a higher rate.

Okogie is an Energizer Bunny, capable of nightly highlights posterizing defenders on put-backs. During the 2019-20 season he shot 61.7 percent in the restricted area, once again per his stats page at NBA.com. A solid number, to be sure, but what is a concern is that in the non-restricted painted area, he is shooting only 28.8 percent. With his athleticism and ability to attack the basket, that number needs to be improved.

Attacking the basket and settling for a tough pull-up in the paint over the defender is outdated and inefficient. These are the plays where Okogie needs to work on kicking out to an open shooter or using post moves to draw a foul or power through to the basket. In Ryan Saunders’ coaching scheme, the emphasis is on avoiding these tough jumpers. An additional year playing in the system should help adjust Okogie’s play.

Part of this could also have to do with the personnel Okogie played with during the 2019-20 season. Pre-trade deadline, the Wolves’ most-used lineup featured Robert Covington (35.8 percent on 3-point attempts), Shabazz Napier (34.6), Okogie (27.4), Towns (39.6), and Andrew Wiggins (33.2).

Now, the post-trade deadline lineup: Malik Beasley (38.8 percent on 3-point attempts), Juancho Hernangomez (35.9), Josh Okogie (27.4), Naz Reid (33.0), and D’Angelo Russell (35.6). Substitute Towns for Reid and you’ll find improved shooting across the board. With the right personnel, drive-and-kick shots will become a feature of Okogie’s play.

The last area of improvement is on-ball defense. In his first two seasons with the Timberwolves, opponents have shot 18 percent and 8 percent higher, respectively, with Okogie on the court versus off. While on the court opponents have also turned the ball over at a higher rate and the Timberwolves average more steals. For someone known as a strong defender, he needs to make an impact across all of his defensive play.

His Defensive Win Shares during the 2019-20 season were .058, putting him in the company of Carmelo Anthony, Quinn Cook, Austin Rivers, Tyler Johnson, Jordan Poole, Jordan Clarkson, and Jeff Green. Of that grouping, the only player giving up more points in the paint than Okogie’s 26.6 is Anthony 32.4). While DWS is not a perfect metric for measuring individual play, it helps paint a picture of Okogie’s impact on the court.

With Malik Beasley’s breakout spring and having Towns and Russell in place, Okogie is going to find his minutes playing small forward, forcing him to match up against bigger wings like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevins Durant. His best chance of locking down on the defensive end is getting physical and bodying up before they drive.

For example, take a look at Patrick Beverley’s defense on Kevin Durant in the 2019 playoffs. He uses his strength and quickness to bully Durant into tough pull-up jumpers. Josh Okogie has a similar build to Beverley, and if he is able to leverage his size on defense he can take the step towards becoming an elite defender.

The door is still open for Okogie. He has shown promise and potential but having to play through two coaches with drastic system changes, it’s been hard on his development.

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With an off-season of consistency and a new culture building, expect Josh Okogie to solidify himself as an elite 3-and-D wing.