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The Minnesota Timberwolves used the draft to add a pair of players possessing the skills they want for the wing positions.
Even if Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop prove they are capable right away of a place in the rotation <a title="Youth Mikko Koivu Jersey" href="http://www.officialwild.com/authentic-adidas-mikko-koivu-jersey">Youth Mikko Koivu Jersey</a> , though, there is a question about how much they will actually play as rookies. This is, after all, the team run by Tom Thibodeau, who is as likely to prefer experience over potential as any head coach in the NBA.
”Practices are important. Playing time is based on performance. You earn that,” Thibodeau said. ”That’s not just something that is given to you.”
Okogie and Bates-Diop, during their introduction at a news conference Tuesday, sounded like they understand the climb they face. All five starters for the Wolves last season averaged 33 minutes per game or more and ranked among the top 36 most-used players in the league, with Jimmy Butler third and Andrew Wiggins ninth.
”Everybody wants to play a lot as a rookie, but that comes with trust and learning the system and being productive out there <a title="Sidney Crosby Jersey" href="http://www.officialpenguinsproshop.com/authentic-adidas-sidney-crosby-jersey">Sidney Crosby Jersey</a> ,” said Bates-Diop, the Big Ten Player of the Year award winner at Ohio State last season who dropped into Minnesota’s lap with the 48th overall pick in the second round after most projections pegged him much higher on the board.
Okogie, who was selected 20th overall out of Georgia Tech, also expressed a willingness to accept the no-nonsense, tough-love supervision that comes with playing for Thibodeau.
”I’m definitely comfortable with it,” Okogie said. ”I’ve never really had a coach who wasn’t hard on me.”
Both players will go through an adjustment phase with their offensive game, beginning with the longer 3-point shot. Bates-Diop led the Big Ten in scoring (19.8 points per game) and Okogie was fourth in the ACC (17.9 points per game), though, so they’re not coming to the league without any shooting prowess. They’re not one-and-done prospects, either. Okogie will be 20 before the season starts <a title="Reilly Smith Jersey" href="http://www.officialknightsproshop.com/authentic-adidas-reilly-smith-jersey">Reilly Smith Jersey</a> , and Bates-Diop will turn 23 in January, just two months after Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
What will help them the most toward working their way onto the court is the athleticism, tenacity and versatility they’ve exhibited while playing defense. That’s at the top of reasons Thibodeau and the front office targeted these two, enamored by a high leap and a long reach that makes switching from a 6-foot-4 classic shooting guard to a 6-foot-10 stretch power forward doable. Bates-Diop and Okogie were two of the four non-post players with a ”wingspan” of 7 feet or more at the NBA scouting combine last month.
”You can kind of be in two places at once,” Okogie said.
The other factor in their favor? The roster. Butler and Wiggins don’t currently have any backups in place, with Jamal Crawford’s decision to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. There’s nobody else who played on the wing last season who is under contract entering the start of free agency this weekend.
So just how important is it for a rookie to play right away?
”I think it’s important,” Okogie said. ”Is it the most important thing? Probably not. But if I was given a chance to produce and to help this team win nothing would give me more joy than that. So hopefully it happens, and I’ll work and do everything in my power to make it happen.”
Mason Rudolph started wearing the No. 2 while playing high school football in South Carolina. He kept it during his record-breaking career at Oklahoma State, where he left as the program’s all-time winningest quarterback.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers let him know No. 2 was available when he reported for rookie minicamp, he jumped at the chance.
The two-time defending AFC North champions raised eyebrows when they traded up to grab Rudolph in the third round of the draft – with general manager Kevin Colbert stressing the team had given Rudolph a first-round grade. Rudolph is well aware that he’s second on the depth chart – and more likely third – behind Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones.
”I’m looking forward to embracing my role now on this team and learning <a title="Kyle Turris Jersey" href="http://www.officialpredators.com/authentic-adidas-kyle-turris-jersey">Kyle Turris Jersey</a> ,” Rudolph said Friday after finishing his first practice as a pro along with the other rookies and first-year players.
And just in case Rudolph needed a reminder about his status, Roethlisberger provided a few in recent weeks when he expressed surprise the team used such a high pick on a quarterback when the 36-year-old two-time Super Bowl winner plans to play until he’s nearing his 40s.
Rudolph didn’t take it personally and pointed out Roethlisberger sent him a text on Thursday wishing him luck.
”I think the media got kind of twisted around a little bit,” Rudolph said of Roethlisberger’s comments to both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and 93.7 The Fan radio in Pittsburgh. ”I think he’s a competitor. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback and he’s a competitive guy and that’s what I would expect.”
Then again, so is Rudolph. Save for the first 10 games of his prolific career at Oklahoma State, Rudolph has been the starting quarterback for whatever team he was on since his sophomore year of high school. Waiting until the third round while five of his peers went ahead of him- including college rival Baker Mayfield – is something Rudolph admits he’ll carry with him for a long time.
He may need something to keep the fire burning as he spends this fall (and perhaps several others) on the sideline with a clipboard or a headset during games.
”I’m here to prove myself,” Rudolph said. ”That’s the way I approach every facet of my life. But I don’t feel like I’ve got to prove anything to anyone other than these coaches and my teammates.”
Rudolph received new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s playbook about a week ago, one he’s tried to split up into parts so he’s not overwhelmed by its volume.
There will be adjustments along the way. He worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun at Oklahoma State while running coach Mike Gundy’s ”Air Raid” offense. Though he’s spent the last several months doing a crash course on working under center, there were a couple of missed exchanges on Friday.
At one point, when a play didn’t go as crisply as Rudolph liked, he asked Fichtner if he could run it again. It wasn’t a surprise to rookie wide receiver James Washington <a title="Justin Abdelkader Jersey" href="http://www.officialredwings.com/authentic-adidas-justin-abdelkader-jersey">Justin Abdelkader Jersey</a> , a teammate of Rudolph at Oklahoma State and a second-round pick by the Steelers, taken 16 selections ahead of his good friend.
”He’s a perfectionist,” Washington said. ”He doesn’t like things sloppy. I mean if it’s sloppy he’s going to redo it. That’s something that will help him.”
Washington also isn’t concerned about Rudolph taking a backseat for now. They both knew what they were getting when coach Mike Tomlin called him two weeks ago to say they’re coming to the Steelers. This isn’t a rebuilding project. Pittsburgh is built to win now.
Barring injuries, Washington will be asked to make more of an immediate impact than Rudolph. That doesn’t mean Rudolph is going to lose his patience.
”He’s a strong-minded guy,” Washington said. ”He doesn’t care about the hype. He’s just another guy looking for a job.”
And Rudolph understands his job is to soak up what he can from whomever he can and not let egos or agendas or anything else get in the way.
”I’m sure when we get in this building, in this (quarterback) room … we’re going to be friends and I’m going to let (Roethlisberger) do his thing,” Rudolph said. ”I’m going to try and pick up what I can from him but not bother him.”
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