Timberwolves

Jordan McLaughlin Is Only As Good As the Options Ahead Of Him

Photo Credit: Mary Holt (USA TODAY Sports)

It is a tradition like no other to revel in the losses of Minnesota Timberwolves basketball. Just like in years past, there is plenty of blame to go around for this Timberwolves team. The offense is floundering because Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t taking enough shots. Malik Beasley has been a shell of the near-20 PPG player he was in the 2020-21 season before his suspension. Other than the defensive energy, there has been little offensive cohesion, and the Wolves are consistently crumbling under pressure.

Minnesota is 3-5 after playing seven of its first eight games at home. Cracks in the foundation are being exposed more rapidly than the fanatics and hopefuls would like to admit. As winter nears, the Timberwolves need to ensure that the team stays hot, so the water in those cracks doesn’t freeze up.

One of those cracks is rearing its head in the wake of a D’Angelo Russell injury. His injury preceded a handful of games where Patrick Beverley has been unable to play for various reasons. The point guard rotation has been thrown out of whack, and returning third-string point guard Jordan McLaughlin has already been thrust into more action than many Timberwolves supporters would like to see this early in the year.

McLaughlin has nothing to prove as far as being a valuable asset on a team-friendly contract. But having him operate consistently as a second point guard on an NBA-caliber team has yet to yield winning results. In eight games this year, McLaughlin has posted a +/- of minus-29 in 12.6 minutes per game (per Stat Muse), good for fourth-worst on the team. Beverley is minus-24 and only Towns (minus-33), Beasley (minus-55), and Jarred Vanderbilt (minus-69) are worse.

As we all know, plus/minus is a misleading statistic at times. However, it is damning that McLaughlin’s rank in this stat is where it is. He is playing an average of over ten minutes less per-game than the rest of the bottom-five above. His limited time on the court is yielding mixed results, and it is often coming at the team’s expense.

Per NBA stats, of the Timberwolves’ 10 worst three-man rotational lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together, McLaughlin is a part of five of the ten worst combinations going off of net rating. His season defensive rating of 105.8 is good for fourth on the team, though the net rating suggests that players are finding ways to attack other places when McLaughlin is on the floor. At just 5’11”, 185 lbs., he’s a liability guarding almost anyone on the floor who isn’t a deep reserve.

However, of these five three-man rotations, four of them are also shared with Beasley, whose struggles have been well-documented this year. His inability to put the ball in the hoop at an efficient rate has played a significant role in tanking many of Minnesota’s offensive ambitions. Finch is giving Beasley a full complement of minutes almost every night (25.9 average), and Beasley is rewarding his coach with a 35.6% shooting percentage on nearly 11 shots per night from the floor. The team tends to suffer when Beasley is on the floor. It’s not helping McLaughlin’s cause when he’s paired with Beasley for most of his minutes off the bench.

McLaughlin excels when he can play limited minutes surrounded by players who will draw defensive attention. McLaughlin has a spot in two of the top-five combinations based on net rating of five-man lineups that have played at least five minutes together. His ability to initiate an offense is well-documented. He is better not being relied upon to shoot the ball when Chris Finch places players who can effectively score around him. Beasley has proved that he cannot do that this season. His frequent pairing with McLaughlin in the absence of a consistent Beverley and Russell has ensured McLaughlin’s stats have suffered across the board.

The Timberwolves do not win the second game of the season against the New Orleans Pelicans without playing McLaughlin the entire fourth quarter. He is an intelligent player who consistently makes good basketball plays despite his physical limitations. While he thrives in limited roles with other starters on the floor, it is clear that JMac’s role on the team is as a PG3. He should not be expected to punch above his weight class for a team with playoff aspirations. The health of Russell and Beverley will be critical to McLaughlin’s success this season. He looks like a plug-in guy for a team that will consistently lack a motivational spark.

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