Could Naz Reid Become An NBA Starter?

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn (USA TODAY Sports)

For the last three years, Naz Reid has been a spark plug scorer off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He quickly climbed from being an undrafted prospect to a fan favorite known for being one of the hardest-working players on the team.

On Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, Reid showed that he might be ready to take another leap. Naz led the team with 23 points on 10 of 17 from the field while also grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out two assists – his fifth career double-double. Even though the Timberwolves are losing, Reid’s performance showed that he is more than capable of starting and giving the Wolves great minutes when Karl-Anthony Towns can’t play.

Moreover, games like this make you wonder if Naz has the potential to be a full-time starting 4 or 5 in the NBA. Reid has been quickly composing a resume that may suggest he is overqualified for coming off the bench as a backup big. Last season, Reid averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game while playing an average of only 19.2 minutes as a second-year player.

To put into perspective how impressive this is, we can look at two statistical measurements that attempt to compare players as though they all played the same amount of time: per 36 minutes stats and per 100 possessions stats. Naz scored 21 points per 36 minutes last year, which put him at 42nd in the NBA in points per 36 minutes – only 0.1 points behind Ja Morant and an entire point ahead of our old friend Andrew Wiggins. Similarly, if you measure Naz’s scoring last season per 100 possessions, he ranked 45th in the NBA at 27.5 points.

Of course, these statistics do not mean that if we inserted Naz into the starting lineup at power forward today and played him 36 minutes, he would average nearly a double-double every game. The main caveat with these types of statistics comes primarily from matchups. Because Naz comes off the bench in most games, he is also usually playing against other teams’ bench players. Thus, Reid often plays against lower-quality defenders for most of his minutes, rather than matching up directly with elite rim protectors like Rudy Gobert or John Collins. But he would if he were to start at center or power forward.

However, that does not mean we should disregard Naz’s efficiency last season. Nor should we ignore the potential that Reid could become a 20 point per game scorer if he were allowed to start, even against some of the best defenders in the NBA.

A tangible example of Naz’s potential to battle with the best bigs in the league came in a game earlier this season against the Utah Jazz, where he had a chance to match up with Gobert. While Naz sometimes struggled to score around Gobert in the paint, he showed off his ability to cut to the basket on pick-and-rolls and get open in space for three-point opportunities. Naz ended the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and a block on Gobert. Naz allowed Gobert to score 20 points and grab 17 rebounds. However, the glaring 17 boards allowed for Gobert isn’t as ridiculous as it may seem, considering Gobert is averaging a whopping 15 boards per game this season.

Naz’s ability to score isn’t the only thing that makes him exciting to watch. It’s also his impressive footwork, burst speed, and silky-smooth touch when he’s shooting around the rim. Naz has long been known for his stylish finger-roll skills. He was one of several members of The Jelly Fam, a group of basketball players from the New York metropolitan area who became internet sensations due to their signature finger-roll layup and adept social media marketing. Naz’s history as a part of The Jelly Fam is also how he earned the nickname “Big Jelly,” if you were wondering.

Timberwolves fans aren’t the only ones who know Naz’s potential. He was chosen to join the USA Men’s Select Team in the summer of 2021 before the Olympics, along with several of the NBA’s other brightest young stars, including Miles Bridges, Darius Garland, and Anthony Edwards. The fact that Reid got selected for this team should not go unnoticed. At the very least, it means that one of the best coaches in the NBA, Eric Spoelstra, and the rest of the coaching staff for the USA Select Team liked what they’ve seen out of Naz in his first two years.

Reid is only in his third season, and every year he adds new skills that improve his game. I believe the door is still wide open for Naz to prove that he deserves a starting job either alongside KAT in a Timberwolves lineup – or on another team when his contract is up in Minnesota.

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