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Josh Okogie’s return to earth and what it means for Phoenix

Okogie was a 36.7% three-point shooter in the back half of last year. Ah, once upon a time, eh?

In-Season Tournament - Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

When Josh Okogie was signed to the Phoenix Suns last summer, the landscape of the franchise was much different. The team was in the process of fortifying a roster that had won 64 games the season prior. Monty Williams was orating philosophical euphemisms, the second-best player on the team was a 37-year-old Chris Paul, and the team was in need of a defensive-minded player to complement the offensive ideology of the coaching staff.

Okogie had spent his first four seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, filling the role of someone who could clamp down on the defensive end. And that was pretty much it. Offensively he was a void. He averaged 6.6 points in 20.1 minutes while with Minny, shooting 40% from the field and 29.1% from beyond the arc.

In his first season with the Suns in 2022-23, opportunity wasn’t readily available at the beginning of the season. Through the Suns’ first 21 games, Okogie averaged a mere 6.2 minutes. His defensive prowess was visible; he had a defensive rating of 90.0 to lead the team. But his offense was abysmal. He was shooting 29% and only 7.1% from deep.

Then opportunity came a-knockin’.

In a blowout win against the San Antonio Spurs, Okogie had a chance to play. In 26 minutes, while his 0-of-4 from three-point range was par for the course, it was his hustle on the boards that caught the attention of the Suns’ coaching staff. 11 rebounds — 5 on the offensive end — was an introduction to “Call Me Non-Stop’s” hustle, grit, and ability to be an effective player, despite the shooting woes.

Over the month of December, he would see that playing time increase from 6.2 minutes to 19.1 minutes. And then the injuries began for Phoenix. Devin Booker injured his groin. Chris Paul would injure his hip. Phoenix would sell the team to Mat Ishiba, James Jones would trade nearly all wing depth to the Brooklyn Nets, and Josh Okogie started 25 of the Suns' final 44 games.

In his final 44 appearances, Okogie added offense to his game.

He scored 9.7 points, but more importantly, his three-point shooting percentage increased, making 36.7% from downtown. 44 games is a sizeable sample. Only Torrey Craig played in more games last season during that time frame.

A player who possesses his defensive acuity who is also serviceable from beyond the arc? A true “3-and-D” guy?! Okogie was like Jafar finding Aladdin in the streets of Agrabah. He was a diamond in the rough.

The postseason came, and with it came inconsistency, both in his playing time and playing production. Torrey Craig got the nod from head coach Monty Williams in the starting lineup in the First Round against the Los Angeles Clippers. The damage to JO’s offensive confidence was done. In 20 minutes played per game, Okogie shot 25% from beyond the arc in the series. He started against the Denver Nuggets but did not hit a three-pointer in 5 games played.

Okogie signed with the Suns after becoming an unrestricted free agent this offseason, choosing to do so for a veteran minimum salary. The roster changed around him as more offensively superior players were acquired. Simultaneously the Suns’ brass hired a coach who could maximize Okogie’s primary skill set: defense.

The hope entering this season is that Okogie’s postseason was a blip on the radar, not a return to the offensive player he once was.

That hope has turned to anxiety as not only has he returned to that player, but his lack of offensive ability has forced Frank Vogel into experimenting with the starting lineup. Due to injury, he played on Sunday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the story was the same: Okogie’s offense was a non-point and his defense was been average.

Considering that he will be the recipient of numerous wide-open corner three-point shot attempts this season, given the gravity of those around him, his shooting has been a point of concern. He has made just 4 of his 23 three-point attempts (17.4%) and 18 of those attempts are classified as “wide open”.

Okogie has missed his shots, and it has come when the Suns need them the most. The fourth-quarter Suns have become a thing early this season and their lack of ability to put the ball through the cylinder has been astonishing. With the talent that they possess it’s darn near unacceptable. Kevin Durant has been playing isolation basketball and trying to carry his team to victories, and the reason why? Because he can’t rely on those around him.

In the fourth quarter alone, Okogie is shooting 16.7% this season.

It is due to this that it is rumored during the Suns’ loss on Friday LeBron James stated, “Josh Okogie is on the floor. When he is on the floor, take the player guarding him and put him on Durant because he cannot make an open shot.”

Rumored, not verified. Whether it was stated or not is one thing, but the fact remains true. Okogie has become a zero on the offensive end and NBA defenses know it.

So what do you do? What will Frank Vogel do?

Despite his poor shooting, which includes a slow-motion wind-up release that allows opposing defenders to sag off of him because they can recover, Okogie still brings value and should be played. It’s the intangibles. And it’s the history.

Josh has displayed in the past a slow start-up to the season. Again, he shot 7.1% from three through the Suns’ first 21 games in 2022-23. The question becomes whether or not he’s going to be given the same opportunity as he did last season. The Suns are deeper this year. James Jones hasn’t traded all of our wing depth away yet. He might not get the chance.

It is unfortunate that JO has not carried the same shooting ability into this season. Given his intangibles, he is an ideal fit for the starting lineup. Weaknesses will be taken advantage of, and he needs to display his ability to not be a weakness.

Keita Bates-Diop has proven to be a more consistent player on both ends of the floor in limited opportunity. But again, Josh Okogie provides value. Every team needs an “eff s*** up” guy and he is somebody who does that. He is a disruptor. He makes winning plays. Just as long as he’s not relied on to shoot the ball.

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