Timberwolves

Will the Timberwolves Be Able To Play Naz Reid In the Playoffs?

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Naz Reid is one of the most inspiring stories in the NBA right now. Undrafted out of LSU, he managed to land on his feet in Minnesota. Reid is averaging 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.9 assists and has been a fantastic backup center behind Karl-Anthony Towns.

He shines brightest versus lineups like the Portland Trail Blazers trotted out on Monday:

When the tallest player in the lineup is 6’9″, two things are almost always guaranteed: lack of rim protection and rebounding.

Reid’s ability to score at every level is highlighted when the opposition has poor rim protection. If a defender sags off of Naz too much, he can shoot the three-ball. Reid can use his speed and athleticism to blow by the slower center if the opposing center plays him too tightly.

Reid is a fantastic backup. At times last season, it looked like Naz may have been able to start for some teams. After Towns went down with his wrist injury in 2020-21, Chris Finch asked Reid to make multiple starts. With a career-high 15 starts that season, Reid produced a career-high 11.2 points per game.

With a less prominent and consistent role in this year’s offense, Reid’s points per game have simmered down to 8.3 ppg. Sadly, he has begun to regress to the mean.

Reid should expect an even less prominent role in this year’s playoffs, but that’s nothing against him. Every team shortens rotations in the playoffs.

Below was the Miami Heat’s 2020-2021 center rotation:

Miami had four centers active in the rotation during the regular season. Now, look at their playoff rotation.

The Heat dropped two centers out of the rotation entirely, coinciding with Meyers Leonard‘s minutes reduction. Leonard, who averaged 20 minutes per game that season proved to be unplayable in the playoffs, so Miami didn’t play him. Instead, they turned to Kelly Olynyk to carry some of his load. Star center Bam Adebayo absorbed the rest of his minutes.

For comparison, here is Minnesota’s current center rotation:

The Wolves have three centers who get semi-regular playing time. Nathan Knight only checks in for an injury to either center, during a foul-out situation, or a blowout.

Finch won’t play Knight in the playoffs, and Reid will likely only play 10-13 minutes per game. Conversely, Finch will probably play Towns 35 to 38 minutes.

Reid has trouble defending bigger centers, and the playoffs will be full of them. Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, and Deandre Ayton play on Western Conference playoff teams. The concept of Reid getting minutes against any of those guys could be detrimental to a possible Wolves playoff run.

In the playoffs, Reid will only be playable versus the opposing team’s backup 5. If Naz has to go up against a playoff-caliber starting center for any amount of time, it would be a matchup nightmare for Finch. His short leach would likely lead to fewer minutes for Naz in the playoffs.

Reid’s per 36 minutes stats illustrate his struggles against these bigger centers:

Size is likely the genesis of all these issues.

During his senior year at Roselle Catholic High School in New Jersey, Reid’s weight had reportedly become such an issue he “couldn’t do a push-up.” He had to lose 30 pounds before his freshman year at LSU.

Reid’s weight loss resulted in pros and cons. The upside was that he became a more athletic, quick, and fit player. The drawback was his lack of presence in the paint. Although he had the length and the wingspan (7’3″) to become an above-average rim protector, his lack of size hindered this progression.

Naz is 6’9″, 264 lbs; Jokic is 6’11”, 284 lbs. Reid’s lack of size becomes the most prominent issue with his game. Bigger centers like Jokic can easily bully him in the paint. A simple back-down can result in Naz sliding underneath the basket, allowing the opposing center to sink the ball through the hoop.

 

There are clear pros and cons in a multitude of Reid defensive possessions:

The pro? As Jokic tries to initiate offense, Reid does an excellent job of using his enormous wingspan to pester and inhibit the initial pass attempt to Morris.

The con? Reid gets bumped by Jokic, allowing him to get into a good position for a hook shot.

Reid is an incredibly gifted player who has and will continue to provide quality backup minutes to Towns. But the truth, no matter how hard it is to admit, is that Reid is not a viable high-volume player in the playoffs, especially considering the dominant centers littered throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

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