As a casual Hawks fan, Thursday night’s NBA Draft was...interesting, to say the least. The lone bright spot in a very odd draft night was the selection of Tech basketball wunderkind Josh Okogie at 20th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. As Okogie prepares to trade his white and gold for midnight blue, let’s take a look at what the T-Wolves are getting out of the tenacious 19-year-old.
|Minnesota Timberwolves (20th overall)||SG||19||6'4"||211 lbs||All-ACC Rookie Team (2017); Bronze Medal, 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship; All-ACC Third Team (2018); ACC Top Six For Service (2018)|
As part of a rebuilding Georgia Tech squad, Okogie was a jack of all trades and a defensive menace that hung tight with the ACC’s elite. On offense, Tech head coach Josh Pastner mostly utilized Okogie as a point guard, showcasing his play-making ability. He was able to move effectively both on and off the ball, creating scoring opportunities seemingly out of thin-air for the Jackets. Okogie “plays a loose, fearless, attacking brand of basketball”, crashing the boards on both ends of the floor, drawing a lot of fouls, and capitalizing with ruthless efficiency at the free-throw line — sinking 82% of his free-throws (NBADraft.net). On defense, he relied on his 6’4”/211-pound frame and athleticism to be a versatile defender, neutralizing opponents’ best players’ regardless of position, limiting opponents’ shooting opportunities in the paint, always looking for opportunities to steal the ball and fast break, and outhustling everyone else on the glass.
NBA experts peg Okogie as a “3-and-D” prospect — good for three-pointers and defensive intensity — but our staff argues that the moniker belies his on-ball creativity and distribution. Okogie can be the centerpiece of a team’s offense if given the opportunity (which Tech did) and an efficient shooter (in fact, one of the best in the ACC) from anywhere on the floor, not just the perimeter. Whenever Tech put the ball in Okogie’s hands, he (often) made magic.
But with that magic came a set of risks. Tech deployed Okogie as a point guard, but in that role, his decision-making and passing choices were sometimes perplexing. He brought a lot of raw energy and intensity in his play-style, but sometimes got out of control and forced passes and shots. As Minnesota sports blogger Dane Moore puts it, “Some of Okogie’s antics, on the offensive end, will be that of a maddening ‘no, no, no, yes!’ guy.” Some experts also argue that the low release point on Okogie’s shot makes it more vulnerable to higher-level defending by NBA-level athletes. Defensively, Okogie’s intensity and athleticism made up for minor mental mistakes at the college level, but pro athletes will punish those mistakes more harshly. Okogie must control his energy and refine his defensive abilities in order to succeed at the next level.
Despite these faults, Okogie was able to put together two extremely productive seasons at Georgia Tech.
Career Stats (by season)
Advanced Stats (by season)
There’s a few things I want to focus on in these tables:
- Overall Improvement Playing more minutes per game than in 2016-17, Okogie improved his performance this season in a number of major offensive categories: namely, 3-Point Attempts, Rebounding, and Assists. As his 3.1-point improvement in Offensive Rating (IE: he contributed an estimated 3.1 more points to the Tech offense than he did the year before - per 100 possessions) shows, he became a better scorer and was able to contribute more to a Georgia Tech offense that struggled after a surprising 2016-17 season and without as strong of a supporting cast. In 2017-18, Okogie found space to take more three-point shots, crashed the glass more aggressively, and became a more efficient passer. He drew slightly fewer fouls than 2016-17, but that can be explained by his increased tendency to shoot from the perimeter than dribble and drive to the basket.
- Shooting and FTs As mentioned in the last section, Okogie is a natural shooter and he can do it from anywhere on the court. He posted a 38% 3-point percentage, along with a mid-40% FG percentage during his career in Tech white and gold. He also made opponents pay for fouling him in the paint, knocking down an efficient 82.1% of his free-throws (a step up from 74.7% in 2016-17).
- Room for Improvement But even in his stats, it’s plain to see that Okogie is still raw. His added offensive responsibilities in 2017-18 made him a bit more of a liability on defense — overall, opponents were expected to score 3 points more than normal (per 100 possessions) with him on the floor, a concerning slip from his freshman campaign, where he limited opponents to 5 fewer points than usual (per 100 possessions - see: DRtg, or Defensive Rating). His steal and block numbers went up, but even as he caused more turnovers on the defensive end, his sometimes-errant passes and loose handle on the ball, coupled with his aggressive attacking style, generated more turnovers for Tech. Like previously established, he needs to shore up these parts of his game in order to succeed at the next level.
First, to relive the best moments of Okogie’s Georgia Tech career — some highlights:
Explosiveness and Vision
The highlights video above really showcases Okogie’s playmaking ability, but I want to add one more example of his court vision.
As he’s bringing the ball up the court, Okogie sees that he can split NC State G #12 Allerik Freeman and G #15 Sam Hunt for a clear path to the hoop. He then speeds through the hole he sees and outmuscles Wolfpack defenders on his way to the basket.
Relying on his 6’4”/211 lbs frame and his speed, Okogie makes his opponents work for baskets. Regardless of zone or man defense, he plays aggressive and tries to force opposing players into mental mistakes. Here’s one example from a game versus Angola in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championships:
Okogie switches to defend Angola G #16 Levy Miguel and forces him into making an errant pass, which is promptly picked off and run downcourt on a fast break for the US.
In this next clip, Okogie takes on Miami C #15 Ebuka Izundu:
Okogie completely shuts Izundu out of the play, and when Izundu finally receives the ball and tries to pass out of a sticky situation, Okogie is there to knock it away.
Defensively, Okogie limits opponents on the perimeter and forces them into low-percentage shots, like here versus FSU G #14 Terrance Mann:
Okogie plays Mann man to man, keeping him out of the play and stranded on the perimeter, and when Mann does somehow get the ball, Okogie makes sure he can’t move and forces Mann to pass to a nearby teammate for a low-percentage shot from behind the arc.
I’ve mentioned previously that Okogie was accounted for the majority of Tech’s offensive movement and stepped up his production from the perimeter during the 2017-18 season, creating a perfect storm in which he was able to showcase his dangerous catch-and-shoot ability.
Take a look at this play where fellow point guard Tadric Jackson makes an incredible flailing pass (as he is wont to do while driving to the basket) to Okogie. Guess what happens next.
Drain-o. This is what Okogie brings to the table on the wing. He gets open on the perimeter, sets up quickly, and drains a nice-looking shot from downtown.
But Okogie’s attacking and aggressive style of play sometimes comes back to bite him, like here versus Duke:
Like versus NC State, Okogie sees the defensive seam between Duke F #34 Wendell Carter, Jr. and G #3 Grayson Allen and tries to speed past Allen to attack it. Unfortunately, his handle on the ball can’t keep up with his speed, and he loses the ball, which bounces back to Duke for a quick fast-break shot attempt.
And, As Minnesota sports blogger Dane Moore points out, Okogie sometimes gets caught ball-watching on defense. Here’s one such example from this year versus Notre Dame:
Okogie focuses on the ball, biting on the drive by Notre Dame G #10 TJ Gibbs, Jr. and leaving Notre Dame G/F #3 DJ Harvey wide open for the easy three-pointer. He makes up for it as best he can by getting back to Harvey quickly to put up his hand for a shot, but it still goes up and in without a hitch.
I previously mentioned Okogie’s higher steal numbers in 2017-18 and tenacity to take away the ball from the opponent. Sometimes a missed swipe can let an opponent slip by with ease. Take, for instance, this sequence versus Miami:
Okogie makes an initial swipe at the ball while hustling back to defend Miami G #4 Lonnie Walker IV, who switches hands and slips through Okogie’s arms towards the basket.
All in all, Okogie is a wing player with high defensive versatility and a proven shooting ability from anywhere on the court that instantly provides value to any NBA team. His game can sometimes be rough around the edges and he can be prone to mental mistakes, but he has relentless passion for the game and a unwavering dedication to his craft that will help him develop his game at the next level and blossom into a star. The main knock against Okogie at this point is that his game needs polish, and honestly, there’s no way to argue against that. Okogie “played basketball with the electricity of a downed telephone wire still on full blast“ while at Georgia Tech and became an all-round scorer and “do-er of basketball-looking things” (if you pardon the technical parlance). Betting on his development is inherently a risk, but a worthwhile investment — once the Timberwolves help Okogie settle down into a structured shooting guard role, his explosiveness, intensity, and tenacity for the game will help him succeed at the pro level. Timberwolves fans seem ecstatic to have Okogie, and while we’re sad to see him go, it’s satisfying to know that he will be in good hands with fans that will appreciate him as much as we do on the Flats. Thank you Josh for two great years in Tech white and gold, and good luck in your next chapter in Minnesota!
For more about the Okogie pick:
Timberwolves’ Okogie highlight tape [Twitter]
Canis Hoopus on selecting Okogie [CanisHoopus.com]
A Wolf Among Wolves’ interview on Okogie with FTRS Site Manager Cade Lawson [AWolfAmongWolves.com]
YellowJackedUp’s review of the Okogie selection [YellowJackedUp.com]