Just two games — in Las Vegas, in the summer that is — into his professional career, new Timberwolves draft pick Josh Okogie sees the two things that differentiate this new NBA game from the one he knew in college.
“Strength and speed,” he said.
At almost 6-5 and with a 7-foot wingspan, he said he believes he can handle bigger, stronger players, even if he is yet to turn 20.
The speed might be a bit different.
“I think for me the adjustment is more the speed than the strength,” said Okogie, whom the Wolves drafted 20th overall out of Georgia Tech last month. “Physically, I’m able to hang around these guys, but the game is really fast. It’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ You’re making the same decisions you’re making in college, but you have five less seconds to do it. It’s going to take a lot of time. That’s what summer league is for.”
You couldn’t tell if he really was a step or two behind in the Wolves’ second NBA Summer League game in Vegas, Sunday’s 103-92 victory over Toronto.
He came from behind, out of nowhere — a very poor man’s LeBron, dare we say — to block a shot late in Sunday’s game vs. the Raptors. He was called for a foul on the play, although, of course, both Okogie and Wolves Summer League coach John Lucas disputed that.
“He never gives up on a play,” Lucas said. “Even on that last block, I felt like it was a clean block. The referees called a foul, but he could have given up on that. He did not. He went and contested. He did it last game, he did it this game. He’s diving on the floor, giving his body up, sacrificing his body for the sake of the team. What more can you ask from him?”
Okogie agreed with Lucas on at least one thing.
“It was definitely clean,” he said about the block-turned-foul. “They tried to make the game a little more interesting, which it definitely was.”
Okogie shot 5-for-15 from the field in Sunday’s game against the Raptors, including 1-for-5 on three-pointers, while teammate and fellow 2018 draft pick Keita Bates-Diop delivered 24 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.
The Wolves, who lost their Vegas opener Friday to Denver when their comeback fell a point short, won again Monday night, defeating Brooklyn 78-69 behind 13 points from Jared Tarrell and 11 each from Okogie and Bates-Diop and improving to 2-1 in the Summer League. Okogie had another poor shooting performance, going 4-for-13, including 1-for-5 from three-point range.
Even when his shots missed, Okogie did the one thing for which Wolves coach/President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau primarily drafted him: He defended.
“Everybody knows Coach Thibs is a defensive coach,” Okogie said. ”So even before you get drafted, that’s the first thing you hear: Defense, defense, defense. I take pride in that anyway … I hang my hat on defense. Obviously, defense is all about effort. It has nothing to do with skill. I can’t control my shots. I’m in the gym a lot. I work on my game. I’m going to come out there and I know I can shoot the next one. If they don’t fall, they don’t fall. But defense, that’s what is going to keep me on the court.
“If I rebound, if I’m able to get steals, dive on the floor, make the extra play, make multiple efforts, I can still stay on the floor. That’s something I’m never going to let go.”
He knows defense is the way he’ll convince a coach who often does not play rookies to play him.
“That’s what is going to get me on the court,” Okogie said. “Thibs is a defensive coach. I have to take advantage of my attributes.”
Team finalizes deal with Anthony Tolliver
The Wolves on Monday officially signed free-agent forward Anthony Tolliver, a week after they reached agreement with him on a one-year, $5.75 million contract. He essentially replaces Nemanja Bjelica. The Wolves withdrew from Bjelica a qualifying offer worth nearly $5 million so they could use that money to sign Tolliver, 33, instead. Bjelica, 30, then signed a $4.4 million “room” mid-level exception with Philadelphia.