Timberwolves' Josh Okogie isn't getting any Rookie of the Year hype, which is fine with him
MINNEAPOLIS — Josh Okogie received some love in the NBA's annual Rookie Survey,
The Timberwolves' first-round pick finished third among all rookies in voting in questions asking who's the most athletic rookie and who's the best defender in the 2018 draft class.
But for the big questions, the ones that matter most, he went unmentioned.
When players were asked who will win Rookie of the Year, Okogie didn't receive a single vote. Same goes for the question asking which member of this draft class will have the best NBA career.
That's all fine and good with Okogie.
"At the end of the day, you've got to understand, I've personally never in my life have been voted for something," Okogie said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Somebody today texted me today saying, 'They didn't pick you for this or predict you for this,' and I'm like, 'Dude, they never predict me for those things.' And I like that, because whoever they picked, now they've got a lot of pressure to show it every day."
Meanwhile, Timberwolves rookie forward Keita Bates-Diop was named the steal of the draft in the rookie survey. The Wolves selected the Ohio State forward No. 48 overall.
Okogie mentioned not many people had Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell pegged to finish runner up in last year's Rookie of the Year voting, either.
"Look what he did last year," Okogie said. "It's not about what you do before the draft, it's about what you do when you have the opportunity. ... As long as I do what I'm supposed to do, Imma be fine. If I win Rookie of the Year, great. If I don't, still great, because I'm here to make this a long career for me and be the best basketball player I can."
If he does just that, Okogie knows he'll prove a lot of people wrong. When the 6-foot-4 Georgia Tech guard declared for the draft, he didn't receive a lot of positive reinforcement. People were instantly telling him he made the wrong choice.
"People were like, 'That's the dumbest decision you could ever make. You're not going to get drafted. You're going to go undrafted. You should go back to school,' " Okogie recalled. "And I'm talking about that's people that I thought were rooting for me."
They were quickly proven incorrect on draft night when Minnesota selected Okogie with the No. 20 pick. The guard then flashed NBA talent during Summer League action. While he shot just 30 percent from the floor, Okogie averaged two blocks and 2.3 steals a game, showing he can contribute in more ways than one.
"I found a way to stay on the court and stay effective by getting those blocks, getting those steals, getting those second-effort plays," he said. "Nobody makes every shot, nobody has a good game offensively every night. ... Me, I have to rely on (defense) to be my pillar for now until I'm able to get more consistent on the offensive end."
That process is already in motion. Okogie, who shot 38 percent from 3-point range in college, mentioned his outside shot as one of his areas of emphasis this summer.
"Obviously we have our scorers and we have our go-to guys, but as far as scoring, I have to be able to make the open shots," he said. "So I'm working on being consistent with my 3-point shot and being a reliable guy, and I know that I have confidence that when I catch a ball I can knock it down."
Will that be enough to get him on the court this season? The opportunity to play early is there with the Wolves' lack of established wings behind Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins, but Okogie knows he doesn't determine the rotations. He does determine how hard he works every day.
"The controllables are going to training camp, soaking in as much information as I can, playing as hard as I can, doing what coach tells me to do," Okogie said. "If I sit on the bench, then that's probably what's best for the team, and I can live with that. What I can't live with is if I'm not playing my best and I'm not getting the results I want."
Okogie said he'll be happy with any role given to him this season.
"If that's being the best guy in the locker room, making sure everybody has towels, making sure everybody has water and making sure all the guys are ready to go, or if that's strapping up and being able to contribute on the court," Okogie said. "Whatever my role is, do that to the best of my abilities so I can eventually get into the rotation."
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is a fan of discipline and engagement, and in that regard, Okogie looks ready to make an early impression. Okogie was named "MVP" of the league's Rookie Transition Program — in which the NBA attempts to get its incoming players ready for the life of a pro. Okogie admitted most rookies didn't want to be at the event, but there were little group competitions throughout, at which point his competitiveness kicked in.
"I'm just competitive in anything I do," Okogie said. "We could be walking next to each other and I want to get to wherever we're going before you."
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Okogie's team finished the week on top. Okogie said he played a small role in that result, but added he tried to take control of situations when needed.
"Any time they needed a volunteer I was the first person that volunteered," Okogie said. "I just wanted to learn and I was engaged."