MINNEAPOLIS — As Taj Gibson watched a Kyle Kuzma 3-point attempt clank off the rim in the third quarter late Monday, Oct. 29, he found himself boxed out for the rebound … by his own teammate.
There was Josh Okogie, getting in front of Gibson on the glass. As a deflection sent the ball toward the boundary, Okogie literally sank his butt into Gibson — great form.
“It’s me,” Gibson hollered at Okogie. “What are you doing?”
The only thing Okogie seems to know to do on the court is play at full throttle, even if that means making the occasional odd or ill-advised play. For now, the Timberwolves will gladly trade the mistakes for the energy.
“I love his energy,” Gibson said after laughing off the box-out. “He just plays fearless. He has young legs every day, he’s just bouncing around, and that’s energy you need every day when you’re a team that’s trying to find energy and find ways to win.”
Energy was needed Monday in Minnesota’s 124-120 win over the Lakers, particularly after such a lackluster performance in the Wolves’ previous game against Milwaukee — an embarrassing 30-point loss on their home floor. Okogie said the Wolves had “no energy” in that loss, noting even he had “poor energy.”
“You can’t have that, especially in the West, if we want to give ourselves a chance to win,” Okogie said. “Shots are going to fall, shots aren’t going to fall, but we have to have that energy every single night, and that’s what’s going to get us through these humps.”
Teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler said that energy can be infectious.
Towns pointed to a play early against Milwaukee in which Okogie dunked, then came down the court and stole the ball from Eric Bledsoe. Early in the third quarter Monday, Okogie blocked a Brandon Ingram jumper, then released into the open court. He caught an outlet pass from Towns and finished an easy flush, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Derrick Rose said Okogie “plays like a football player.”
“When you see him, he’s aggressive, but if anything I think it’s going to help him, because you can’t teach that,” Rose said. “You either have it or you don’t.”
At some point, Okogie will need to learn where to take a breath, but Rose noted that it’s easier to learn to scale back your energy than to try to pick it up.
Okogie ranks in the top seven in his rookie class in average points (9.8) and rebounds (5.6) and leads all rookies in steals per game (1.6). He has struggled with his shot at times, but that hasn’t stopped him from shooting.
“Josh is playing like a rookie that doesn’t care,” Gibson said. “He’s not afraid to take the shot, and I’m loving it.”
Okogie said teammates have implored him to shoot and assured him they have his back. Because of that support, Okogie said, his confidence has grown “exponentially” while he has filled in for injured Andrew Wiggins. The rookie wasn’t playing at the start of the year when the Wolves were at full strength.
Has Okogie done enough to secure a spot in the rotation even when Wiggins returns?
“He played awfully well,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday night. “I’ve said this to you guys from the start: You just like him. You just like his energy, and he makes things happen. He’s not perfect, but he’s learning, he’s eager and every day he comes in with a great attitude … and I like that he’s taking advantage of when he does play.”