Timberwolves

Naz Reid Is Having His Most Efficient Season In His New Role

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Draft pundits and experts saw Nazreon Reid as a prospect entering the 2019 draft, but no team selected him. According to HoopsHype, Nazreon was a “Big man with a solid skill level who lacks athleticism,” and he “sometimes struggles to finish down low due to lack of explosiveness.” It’s almost impossible to think that an undrafted player out of LSU would become one of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ most impactful players due to his energy level and aggressiveness off the bench. Now known simply as Naz Reid, the artist formerly known as Nazeron has an impactful role for the first time in his career and is taking full advantage of it.

Reid has bounced around in a few roles throughout his four NBA seasons, all in Minnesota. In his rookie year, Reid split time with the G-League Iowa Wolves and the main roster before becoming the backup/injury replacement for Karl-Anthony Towns. In the past, the Timberwolves have attached Reid to the bench unit, rarely sharing time with Towns and playing most of his minutes with backup point guard Jordan McLaughlin.

That’s important to highlight due to the massive shift in Reid’s role in this season. McLaughlin has been missing from the rotation due to injuries that caused Reid to have to play with non-pure point guards such as Shake Milton and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, leading to less of a pick-and-roll heavy role for Reid. Reid’s new offensive role typically consists of corner three-point attempts or allowing Reid to catch and drive from the corner or wing position.

Reid’s adaptation is impressive, allowing him to show his ability to be a productive offensive player no matter his role. The statistics also back this up. 29.6% of Reid’s total shot attempts come on “wide-open” threes, where a defender isn’t within six feet. Reid is making these at a blistering 48.6% rate, with most of them coming from his newfound corner position on the offense.

Using Reid’s field goals off of three to six dribbles as a measurement as a measurement of when he drives (13.6% of his total attempts), Reid is again shooting an incredible 58.8%. Reid’s new role as a tertiary option and not the main pick-setter in the offense has led to him having a career-high 39.3% three-point percentage, with 32.8% of his shots coming from distance. He also has a career-high 63.8% true shooting percentage.

Reid sits in the corner in the clip below, and his matchup crashes to help on the Edwards drive, leaving Reid wide open for three:

Reid’s increase in efficiency should continue so long as the Wolves stay healthy. Opponents often match Reid up with the main help defender. Therefore, when Anthony Edwards drives past his man, Reid’s defender often responds by “sagging” off Reid to help the Edwards drive, leaving Reid with more space.

Likewise, if Rudy Gobert or Towns sets the screen for a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, Reid’s matchup often will get pulled into the same help roll, leaving Reid to drift toward the ball-handler. The Wolves list Reid at 6’9”, but Reid looks closer to 7’0”. Therefore, it is very hard for his matchup to sag off to prevent the drive and then recover to guard such a tall player.

In the event the defender recovers, Reid can pump fake and drive, and convert at the rim, which the three-to-six dribble stat measures. You can see an example of this in the clip below. Reid faces a closing defender, side dribbles, and attacks for an easy layup.

Reid’s offensive role change has largely come as a result of Edwards’ emergence and Minnesota’s need for solid corner three-point shooting. However, Reid’s positional shift from center to power forward also changed his offensive role. Reid and McLaughlin enjoyed success off the pick-and-roll, and Reid has always been a capable center when diving to the basket. Still, Towns and Gobert are better at scoring off the pick-and-roll. They can use their bodies to create hard screens. That has required Reid to have to adapt on the fly and play in the corner offensively, a position Reid is excelling at this season.

Reid has also unexpectedly been having his best season defensively. He has played nearly 59.8% of his minutes guarding forwards and an additional 28% playing guards. That has been a massive switch from his typical center role. Reid is having a career-best 101.9 defensive rating (amount of points an offense would score per 100 possessions with Reid on the floor) this season, 5.7 points better than his previous best.

However, Reid’s increase in defensive rating is in spite of his block and rebound percentages falling this season. The dip in rebounds and blocks is realistically due to his role guarding more wing players now and being less involved in the paint. Defensive rating can be unreliable at times because it factors in team performance, it’s noticeable that his overall rating increased while his traditional stats decreased.

The change can be seen in Reid’s steal numbers, which jumped from 0.6 in 2022-23 to 0.8 this year. However, his percentage of plays that result in a steal percentage has remained pretty much the same, going from 18.9% to 21.2%. But opponents’ shooting percentages against Reid better highlight his meaningful defensive improvement.

Opponents are converting only 35.6% of shots longer than 15 feet while Reid is defending them. It gets even worse from three. Opponents are only shooting 34.2% from deep when Reid is guarding them. Reid has moved from center to forward and occasionally has to guard opposing guards. Therefore, it’s impressive to see Reid holding these theoretically better shooting players to sub-league average percentages from distance and mid-range.

That’s likely where we can see his improvement on the defensive side. Reid has the ability to use his length and size and his excellent lateral movement to contest shots. That causes smaller, faster players to struggle to shoot the ball. In the clip below, Reid picks up Brandon Ingram and contests a pull-up three. Reid’s length allows him to still contest the shot despite potentially playing a little too far back.

Reid signed a three-year, $42 million deal to remain in Minnesota this offseason. By signing that deal, he cemented a spot in the Timberwolves lineup and proved his dedication to continuing to develop as a player in their rotation. With career-best offensive numbers and career-best defensive efficiency, Reid has earned every bit of his playing time, the new contract, and every Honk at Parkway Pizza.

Safe to say the Wolves players and fans love Naz Reid this year.

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