Timberwolves

Jordan McLaughlin Is Minnesota's Perfect Throwback Point Guard

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Not much about today’s NBA would be recognizable to those who played the game 50 years ago. Today teams rain threes from all over the court, and seven-footers have point-guard handles. Long gone are the days when an everyman like Don Nelson could trot down the court with a beer belly, win five championships, and become a Hall of Famer. Everyone these days is a freak athlete who will dunk on your head and dance on your grave. That’s why it’s always a wonder when an ex-player from the bygone ages when finals games were on tape delay says that players today couldn’t play in their era.

However, one Minnesota Timberwolves player looks like he’s been ripped right out of 1974. Whose game translates across generations. Jordan McLaughlin is the perfect traditional point guard and precisely what the up-and-coming Wolves need to take their play to the next level.

We all saw what happened in Game 6. Minnesota’s modern point guard, D’Angelo Russell, struggled to get himself or anyone else going. In comes JMac and the offense immediately started to hum. McLaughlin knows how to run an offense and set the table for his teammates better than anyone else on the Timberwolves roster. He’s the perfect fit for a team that just finished its best playoff showing since 2004. DLo is the superior individual basketball player. But McLaughlin’s old-school pass-first philosophy is what this team, especially Anthony Edwards, needs to thrive in the modern NBA.

Edwards has only known the NBA with Russell running things for Minnesota’s offense. Although he’s shown he’s going to be a special player in this league, the way for Edwards to keep improving is not to compete for shots in a DLo-centric backcourt. Instead, it’s to become the unequivocal focal point of the machine where everyone else’s job should be to get the ball to Ant.

Through his first three years in the NBA, the former USC point guard has been the epitome of a floor general. He sets up others before looking for his own shot, averaging 3.5 assists per game while only hoisting 4.3 shots per contest. McLaughlin can still keep the defense honest and knock down an open shot as a career 35 percent three-point shooter. But he doesn’t need to score to be effective the same way Russell does, making him the perfect running mate for Edwards, who can take over a game at a moment’s notice.

Russell led the Timberwolves in assist rate during the regular season, but McLaughlin nearly doubled Russell’s assist-to-turnover ratio (4.74 to 2.79) on less than half the usage rate (11.5 to 24.6). When Ant and JMac shared the court this season, the Wolves outscored opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions. However, it dropped to 2.7 with Ant on the court and JMac on the bench. Add Karl-Anthony Towns to the mix and the net rating rises to 12.4. Conversely, the Wolves had a stellar but not as dominant 7.4 net rating with Edwards, Towns, and Russell on the floor.

McLaughlin is a better defender than Russell and a more willing passer. He seems more willing to bend to the team’s will from afar instead of the other way around. The 25-year-old is on the books for $4.5 million over the next two years, while Russell has one more year on his current deal worth $31.4 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Nobody is advocating making a franchise-altering deal to move on from DLo. It’s been less than a week since one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. Sachin Gupta and the front office have every right to run things back with a roster that just won 46 games a year after winning 23. But it doesn’t hurt to weigh all the options.

It’s unlikely Russell signs an extension in Minnesota anytime soon unless he can see the writing on the wall and agrees to take a hefty pay cut. Instead of losing him for nothing next year, they should at least explore a trade to bring in some extra help for Towns and Edwards. The trade market won’t be super strong for a guy who averaged 12 points on 33 percent shooting in six playoff games. Still, the Wolves should be able to fetch some solid assets for the former second overall pick.

If they bring in some new blood via trade or free agency, It might be wise to stack the backcourt with similar throwback players like McLaughlin. Might I suggest a former Timberwolf and hometown hero who happens to be a free agent this summer? One who took it to the Wolves in the first round of the playoffs?

Tyus Jones has spent the last seven years as one of the premier backup point guards in the NBA, first with the Timberwolves, then behind Ja Morant. Aside from being able to knock down a dagger in crunch time, Tyus Stones is one of the best guardians of the basketball in the NBA. His insane 7.1 assist to turnover ratio is tops in the NBA among those who played at least 50 games this season. He’s also transformed into a reliable three-point shooter.

Jones is another throwback facilitator who could pair nicely with McLaughlin as a one-two punch. Their sole mission would be the get Edwards the ball in the right spot at the right time. He’s also far cheaper than DLo. Jones will likely command somewhere between $10-15 million on the open market compared to Russell, who probably wants a raise from his $31 million next year. The money saved could also net the Wolves another 3-and-D role player or backup center to upgrade Minnesota’s depth that was lacking in the playoffs.

Again, no shade toward Russell. He’s the best point guard the Timberwolves have had in a long time. But he’s not the right point guard for the future of this team, especially Edwards’ future. For Edwards to take the next step in his journey as a potential generation superstar, he needs to surround himself with table-setters like McLaughlin. He needs to play with players who know when to get him the ball and get the hell out of his way. A mixture of old-school pass-first point guards is just what Edwards needs to take this franchise to the promised land.

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Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

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