The Minnesota Timberwolves added two quality prospects to their team in the 2018 NBA Draft. In the first round, they chose Josh Okogie out of Georgia Tech with the 20th overall pick. Later, they snagged Ohio State upperclassman Keita Bates-Diop in the second round with the 48th pick.
In the 2017-18 season, the Timberwolves went 47-35 and defeated the Denver Nuggets in Game No. 82 to snag their first playoff berth since 2004.
As the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference, they lost to the Houston Rockets in five games.
With the team looking to build on last season’s success, will either rookie factor into the 2018-19 rotation?
First, let’s look at each prospect.
Josh Okogie – 19 years old, 6’4″ / 213 lbs, Shooting Guard
Okogie turned heads at the NBA Combine with his athletic measurements: 42″ max vertical (No. 1 at the combine), 3.04 seconds in three-quarter court sprint (No. 1). He was almost universally viewed as a first-round pick.
At Georgia Tech, he showed shooting potential (38 percent of 4.2 three-point attempts per game). Okogie also possesses defensive toughness (1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks) to go along with his high-level athleticism.
Summer League Stats: 4 games, 11.0 points, 30 percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 2.0 blocks.
Keita Bates-Diop – 22 years old, 6’7″ / 235 lbs, Small Forward
In Okogie, the Timberwolves took a young player with tangible upside. In Bates-Diop, the Wolves took a “veteran rookie” with 109 career collegiate games over his four years.
Bates-Diop, after missing most of his junior season, blossomed into the Big Ten Player of the Year and led the conference in scoring. On defense, he blocks shots at a high rate and rebounds very well.
He shot the ball well from distance as a senior (36 percent on 5.4 attempts per). However, Bates-Diop was never a good shooter before last season.
He has to prove his senior season was a sign of things to come and not an aberration.
Summer League Stats: 5 games, 14.8 points, 40 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
Draft Picks Under Coach Thibodeau
If you are betting on either Wolves rookie winning Rookie of the Year, temper those rookie expectations.
Since Tom Thibodeau became a head coach in 2010, first-round picks under his tutelage have only averaged 13.1 minutes per game during their rookie campaigns.
Looking at the rookie years of every first-round pick since 2013, the league-wide average is 16.4 minutes per game for first-rounders in their first season.
Comparing the two, Thibodeau rookies play 20 percent fewer minutes during their rookie years than the average first rounder.
Thibodeau has proven to favor veterans over young players throughout his coaching career. Future star Jimmy Butler, although he was not the player he is today, only played eight minutes a game his rookie season.
Another reason Thibodeau decides not to trust rookies? Defense. It takes time for rookies to adjust to the NBA game, and defense can lag behind other skills.
Barring an unforeseen trade or catastrophic injury, the 2018-19 starting lineup for the Timberwolves is set. Here is the full depth chart as of now.
PG – Jeff Teague Tyus Jones Derrick Rose
SG – Jimmy Butler Josh Okogie
SF – Andrew Wiggins Keita Bates-Diop
PF – Taj Gibson Anthony Tolliver
C – Karl Anthony-Towns Gorgui Dieng Justin Patton
As of right now, twelve players comprise the entirety of the roster. This will not be the case for very long, as most teams carry at least 14 players.
The two rookies are listed as the primary backups at the two and the three. Knowing Thibodeau’s history, expect the Wolves to sign veterans at these positions.
Either rookie can break their way into the rotation by playing smart defense and draining threes at an above-average rate. The Timberwolves desperately need more shooting to provide spacing and driving lanes.
Based on their collegiate careers and summer league showings, expect Thibodeau to favor Bates-Diop over Okogie due to the former’s experience and versatility.
Final Rookie Expectations
Without knowing what final roster moves will be made, statistical projections at this stage would be guesswork. However, I can guess how the season will play out for each rookie.
Okogie will get inconsistent minutes throughout the year and will have fans salivating with periodic flashes. Expect his shot selection to be less than ideal as he attempts to wow coaches during limited minutes.
Bates-Diop will play more than his counterpart, possibly at the three and the four if he can prove his shooting is legitimate. Expect muted contributions when compared to explosive rookies. He will outperform his draft position even as a rookie.
Neither will play much of a role during the upcoming season. However, the Timberwolves’ offseason has carried rumors of team volatility.
Both Okogie and Bates-Diop were solid picks that can contribute in the future.