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Josh Okogie’s recent play is a bright side of a dark stretch

The Phoenix Suns guard has played inspired basketball

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, when I was M.I.A. due to one heck of a vacation in Hawaii followed by a weekend of covering Hoophall West for the East Valley Tribune, I was really hoping that by the time I was back, the Phoenix Suns losing streak would be over and I’d be able to be positive about something.

The losing streak is staunchly not over, but I have found someone whose praises I’d like to sing, and that’s one of the newer Phoenix Suns, wing Josh Okogie.

After averaging just 6.2 minutes per game over his first 18 games as a Sun, Okogie has played 20+ minutes in four of his last six without registering a net negative in the plus/minus column over that six-game stretch (+55 combined). The Suns, however, are 1-5 over the stretch.

And really quickly before I get into what’s made his play stand out so much, I’d first like to pose a question to head coach Monty Williams. Okogie averaged 16.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 25.7 minutes over the first three games of this recent stretch (including +13 in the 27-point loss to Boston).

Why, then, should his minutes be chopped immediately after during the two-game series in New Orleans, where he played just 18.5 minutes combined?

The point I was pondering deeply, even ahead of this story, is that Okogie is the perfect type of player to rise up to meet the challenge of a team like New Orleans. He’s someone ready to meet the level of physicality and not back down.

So where were Okogie’s minutes? He’s absolutely earned them. Let’s dive into how:


Self-creator

This is a section of trends, above all else. This is the “filtering the NBA’s tracking shots dashboard to only show the last six games” section. In any case, it’s always fun when I get to put on my statistician’s hat (or Stat Hat, if you will), then expect to see something only to see something even more dramatic.

Okogie’s shooting 11-20 (55.0%) on shots inside of 10 feet (deep paint) over the last six games as opposed to 7-13 (53.8%) over the first 18 games. Not a massive jump in success rate, obviously, but it’s a dramatic jump in volume — 3.33 attempts per game inside of 10 feet as opposed to 0.72 attempts per game over the earlier stretch — and it’s always nice as a statistician to see the success rate stay roughly the same as the volume increases.

He’s also shooting 5-13 (38.5%) on pull-ups (from both two and three) over this stretch as opposed to 2-8 (25.0%) over the first 18 games. That’s a jump up to 2.2 attempts per game from 0.4 per game before but this time a clearly massive jump in success rate too, likely a product of the longer leash.


Defensive stopper

Okogie’s defensive numbers this year have been pretty outstanding, which was expected — no, the selling point — when he first arrived.

His per 100 possession numbers paint a picture of someone passing with flying colors in that area with 3.0 steals (highest on team) and 1.9 blocks (highest among non-centers) per 100 possessions. Okogie has a sizable lead in both areas as well; the next highest in steals is Chris Paul at 2.4 and the next highest non-center in blocks is Torrey Craig at 1.4.

Fans of the advanced stats would be pleased as well, as Okogie leads the steal% column at 3.0% (Paul at 2.4%) and leads the block% column (non-centers) at 3.5% (Craig at 2.6%). And while we’re looking at the advanced stuff, he’s also the non-center leader in offensive rebounding% at 11.4% (Craig at 9.0%) as well.

Synergy has Okogie listed at 0.884 points per possession (PPP) allowed on shot attempts, including 0.821 PPP on shots off the dribble. For reference, Mikal Bridges is listed at 0.927 and 0.921 PPP in the same respective categories. An even more revealing comparison is found with Cam Payne, listed at 0.993 and 1.120 PPP in the same columns.


A lot of my articles focusing on rising Suns have ended exactly like this one is about to, asking Williams for a longer leash to see what guys are capable of.

Maybe you guys are different, but I have a big picture scope, and as long as the Suns are in position to take one of the top 6 spots in the West where they don’t need to play their way into the playoffs, I don’t mind a double-digit loss here and there as long as guys like Okogie are playing 20+ minutes, getting eight+ shots up like he did in three of their recent losses.

Obviously, if enough playing time shows that Okogie won’t bear fruit in the rotation, then it’s a failed experiment and we can move on. But I’m starting to get a little bit skeptical of Williams’ rotational choices after I’ve long stood by his process.

Okogie has a positive impact on winning basketball, according to the +55 over these six games (and I can’t stress this enough, no games of negative basketball), and I’m willing to climb up the tree to try and find fruit. If there’s none, so be it, but it’s worth it to try.

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