Josh Okogie has become a fan favorite in Minneapolis. The rookie has earned the love of the Wolves’ faithful with his high-energy performance that was shown throughout the early parts of the year. Aside from Derrick Rose’s resurgence, he was the biggest bright spot throughout the first few weeks of the season while the Jimmy Butler drama played out.
Okogie didn’t play the first two games of the season before being in the rotation following that for the next 13 games before the Wolves traded Butler and acquired Robert Covington and Dario Šarić. That move spelled the end for Okogie in the rotation. Now, he occasionally gets minutes in garbage time once the game is decided, but mostly he sits on the bench and watches 48 minutes of basketball take place without him making a dent in the outcome.
The results have been mostly good while he’s on the floor, but with the added depth that Covington and Šarić have brought to the Wolves meant that there was no longer room in Tom Thibodeau’s nine-man rotation. Okogie was the odd man out. Since the deal was made, he’s seen meaningful minutes in one game – with Covington sidelined due to a knee injury – and played nearly 26 minutes.
Thibodeau is typically strict with his rotation during games. He rarely strays from things as they’re set prior to tip. He’s predictable in the aspect that each lineup spends a very similar amount of time on the floor together. For instance, the second quarter always begins with Covington, Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones, Šarić, and Gorgui Dieng. It’s like clockwork for the Wolves.
The adjustments made typically happen at the end of quarters for the Wolves. If one lineup is doing particularly well, it may be given a few additional minutes, or if one player – such as Rose – is doing well he’s given a longer leash.
That point leads to an area where Okogie could find a few minutes in the rotation, if Thibodeau were willing to expand it to include him and put him on the floor for between 8-to-10 minutes a night.
Rose consistently leads the bench in minutes, and with good reason. He’s one of the early-season leaders for Sixth Man of the Year and has been terrific for the Wolves so far this year. Rose has put forth career-highs in 3-point percentage, field goal percentage, and his highest points per game since his MVP campaign of 2011.
The issue at hand involving him is that at times he’s left on the floor for 17 or 18 minutes consecutively. He’s the first man off the bench in the first quarter replacing Covington, and depending on the game, will remain on the floor until halftime. It’s also happened where he’s replaced Covington midway through the third quarter and finished the rest of the game. Instances like that aren’t common, but they’re still inexcusable, especially early in the season.
This isn’t to say that Rose doesn’t deserve those minutes, because he absolutely does. The Wolves need to be smarter with how they play Rose, however. He’s not the 21-year-old he once was. He’s been great so far this season for Minnesota, but Rose needs to be conserved for later in the season. Both he and the Wolves need to be proactive with taking care of his body so that he can be at his best come March, April, and potentially May.
A solution to this would be subbing Okogie in for Covington when Rose normally comes into the game. This allows Rose a few less minutes on the floor consecutively. Trotting out a lineup of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Šarić, and Okogie could certainly work for a few minutes. After that, sub Rose in at the time when Teague typically checks out for Tyus Jones and allow Jones to come in for Okogie either near the end of the quarter or the start of the next one.
Part of the reason that Thibodeau is hesitant to expand his rotation is that he feels players don’t play their best unless they’re given an opportunity to get into a rhythm. That’s often true for players that need to be counted on to rack up points and help the team offensively and be high-usage factors.
Okogie wouldn’t be asked to be that on the offensive end. He would be asked to be more of a catch-and-shoot guy on the wing or in the corner, mostly used for spacing. His value would come on the defensive end, and he typically wouldn’t need to develop a rhythm to play with a high-energy level and be disruptive on defense. Those are things that he always has seemed to possess as a defender throughout his very young career.
This is an idea that likely won’t happen. It would cost both Jones and Rose minutes, however not at the expense of the second unit lineup that’s been so good for the Wolves. If there is a way to squeeze Okogie into the rotation – even in a very small dose – this might be the best option.