For the first time in what feels like forever, there is some real excitement around the Minnesota Timberwolves. At just 19 years old, rookie phenom Anthony Edwards is finally showing flashes of his superstar potential. Chris Finch has the offense humming since the All-Star break. In the last eight games, Minnesota’s offense ranks 11th in the league, much better than its season-long mark of 26th. We’re getting closer and closer to seeing point-KAT finally unleashed on an unsuspecting NBA. Jaden McDaniels is emerging as an intriguing two-way prospect. And Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell will soon make their return to the lineup.
This is all great, but there’s one person we (and especially Chris Finch) can’t forget about as the Wolves plot their rise through the Western Conference standings: Naz Reid. The big man from LSU is continuing to show how every team in the league screwed up by not drafting him in 2019. Reid is the perfect backup center for the modern NBA. He’s 6’9”, 264 lbs, and can stretch the floor to the tune of 34.3% from three. Naz filled in nicely when Towns went down with a wrist injury and later sat out after contracting COVID-19. In 13 starts this season, Reid is averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on a solid 51.8/35/78.1 shooting split.
Under Ryan Saunders, Naz was playing 21.2 minutes per game, which has dwindled to 16.2 minutes per game since Finch took over. We all know the main reason for his decline is that Towns has played in every game under Finch and missed 20 games with Saunders at the helm. But Reid needs to continue to be an integral part of this growing roster.
He is currently the second-best big on a roster desperate for anyone other than Towns to step up down low. Ed Davis is out of the rotation. Jarred Vanderbilt is a glorified backup power forward who is forced to start on a depleted roster, and Juancho Hernangomez has an inconsistent 3-point shot. McDaniels is the only other big on the roster outside of Towns and Naz who has a future with the franchise.
The problem when you’re looking for more playing time for Naz is that he is solely a backup center. No one is ever going to say the Timberwolves should take 10 minutes per game away from Towns and give it to Reid (and, if they are, they should be taken far away from professional basketball). So the answer to finding Reid some extra court time is to play him alongside Towns for a few minutes per game.
Towns and Reid have shared the court for a whopping 34 minutes this season. In those spot minutes, the Wolves actually have a plus-1.8 net rating. This minuscule sample size doesn’t really tell us much about what a Naz/KAT frontcourt would look like. We can hope that the world won’t end if they share the court for a two-minute stretch in both the first and third quarters.
The best way that this works, at least offensively, is the awakening of point-Towns. If Finch employs Towns to run the offense as a seven-footer from the elbow, that would leave Naz alone in the post to receive easy entry passes and bulldoze his way to the basket or jump outside the 3-point line and knock down corner threes like his name is Anthony Peeler. Point-Towns wouldn’t bog down the lane, and Naz is enough of a stretch-five that he can open up driving lanes for Edwards, Towns, and Russell to attack the basket.
The issue would be on the defensive end. Minnesota gives up 112.7 points per 100 possessions with Towns and Naz on the floor, which isn’t terrible for a team with a defensive rating of 114.1. The thought of Naz defending any other team’s power forward may give Minnesota fans nightmares of constant floaters and easy paint points. Luckily the damage would be minimized if they only have two short stints together per game instead of giving teams long stretches to attack the Wolves’ interior defense.
The good news for the Naz-heads out there is that there seems to be no indication that the team is planning on moving him anytime soon. His name hasn’t come up in most of this year’s trade deadline rumors, and he still has two years left on a very team-friendly deal.
As Ant ascends to his rightful place at the head of the Wolves’ table alongside Towns, DLo, Beasley, and fans fawn all over McDaniels, let’s not forget another important piece to this puzzle. At 21 years old, Naz Reid has a bright future in Minnesota if he doesn’t fall through the cracks.