Fear what Beard? Wolves’ Okogie goes viral with block on Harden

The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t exactly Timberpups anymore. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are well into their NBA careers at this point, while the Wolves’ lineup features seven players with 5-plus years of experience.

Welcome to the 2018-19 edition of the Young Wolves Tracker, formerly the Timberpups Tracker.

Each Thursday we’ll either track the progress of the Iowa Wolves players who might be of help to the Timberwolves in the future, or a current member of Minnesota’s roster. We’ll also give updates on the other young players from the previous week.

This is the 15th edition of the 2018-19 Young Wolves Tracker.

 

SPOTLIGHT ON …

Shooting guard Josh Okogie

Timberwolves fans are well-aware of Okogie’s game: his high energy, flashy put-back dunks, the occasional mistake that is quickly forgiven by relentless hustle — and of course, remarkable defense.

But after Wednesday night, the whole basketball world — specifically, #NBATwitter — knows about the rookie.

As the shot clock was winding down on another Houston possession at the Target Center, MVP candidate James Harden had the ball in his hands (where it tends to be). Okogie was defending closely.

Harden pursued the lane, stopped and dribbled behind his back, but Okogie tipped it away. “The Beard” regained control of the ball with 2.2 seconds left on the shot clock, took a giant leap behind the 3-point line and elevated for a shot … but Okogie’s right hand was there to meet the ball.

SWATTED.

It’s not every night that you see Harden get stuffed. Especially on his signature step-back move, one so lethal it has baffled defenders and somehow simultaneously forced referees to swallow their whistles and forget the definition of a travel.

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Check out the highlight again — and this time, just watch his footwork. It’s obvious Okogie has been doing his homework on Harden.

Okogie had a nice game overall, too, tallying 16 points, four assists three rebounds and that block, helping the Timberwolves to a 121-111 win over Houston, which currently owns the Western Conference’s fifth-best record (33-24).

The rookie has improved his game over the last few weeks. After a horrid 1-of-17 stretch from 3 in late January, Okogie has nailed at least one 3-pointer in six straight games, matching the longest streak of his young career.

He’s still hitting just 26 percent of his 3s, but it’s an improvement. The shooting touch will come for the youngster.

The effort and defensive tenacity? Oh, that’s already there.

WOLF TRACKS

— Desperately needing things to change at the Target Center during a four-game losing streak, Ryan Saunders adjusted the Timberwolves’ rotation Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. He made the decision to start 24-year-old Dario Saric in place of the veteran Taj Gibson at the 4, and so far, it’s paid off. Saric has started the last two games (against Los Angeles and Houston on Wednesday) and is averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest while shooting 85.7 percent (6 for 7) from downtown. Oh, and the Wolves are 2-0.

— Andrew Wiggins missed just one game over his first four NBA seasons. But the 23-year-old (who turns 24 on Feb. 23) sat out both games this week due to illness. He’ll have plenty of time to recover over the All-Star break.

— Veteran Luol Deng has started the two games in Wiggins’ absence. Although his age (33) doesn’t qualify him to be a “Young Wolf,” his box scores are noteworthy: 12 points and nine rebounds against L.A. and 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks against Houston. Now that’s getting it done.

— Since being named an All-Star reserve Jan. 31, Karl-Anthony Towns has averaged 27.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and one block per game.