Will the Wolves Take Advantage Of the Extra Two-Way Spot?

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There is no shortage of talent in today’s NBA. Players have many many ways they can use in an effort to stand out from the crowd, but it is still a difficult role. The NBA introduced two-way contracts in the 2017-18 season to allow teams to keep a player on the roster for emergency use, depth, and player development. It also gave them a chance to get reps in the G-League. However, the association limited two-way contracts to players with four or fewer years of NBA experience, reserving them for players who may have been overlooked in the draft process or were raw coming into the league.

In the new CBA that goes into effect July 1st, 2023, the league elected to allow teams to add one more two-way player to their roster. The new rule could bode well for many fringe prospects to gain NBA experience. It also automatically opens up 30 new roster spots for players who either went undrafted, teams selected in the second round, or are free agents with under four years of NBA experience to find a spot on a team.

Lu Dort, Monte Morris, and Alex Caruso are some successful examples of players who needed time to develop as two-way players. Closer to home, the Wolves initially inked Naz Reid to a two-way contract as an undrafted player in 2019. But they signed him to a team-friendly four-year deal two weeks later. That proved to be an excellent decision by the Wolves, and it’s similar to the contracts that Dort, Morris, and Caruso signed with their respective teams.

Naz averaged 10.1 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game on 50.5/34.4/71.1 shooting splits in his four years with Minnesota. He used his four-year contract to show that it is a viable platform for players to stick around and develop with the team. Keeping him in-house on a low-risk, affordable rookie contract made the risk of things going poorly nonexistent. The final three years of this contract were all non-guaranteed. Therefore, if things went downhill, the Wolves could let him go without financial consequence. Fortunately, Naz over-performed this contract immensely, offering backup depth to the bigs.

However, he was not Minnesota’s only success story.

Last season, the Wolves used the two-way contract effectively on Luka Garza. He was an absolute bucket-getter in four years at Iowa. Garza earned National College Player of the Year honors in 2021 and was a Consensus All-American in 2020 and 2021. He also earned the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award in 2020 and 2021, which goes to the best collegiate center in the nation. Garza left Iowa as their all-time highest scorer. With these accolades, you would assume NBA teams would have more demand for him. However, much of his offensive game came in the post. He was limited as a defender and athlete. The Detroit Pistons took him with the 52nd pick, and he spent that one season there before becoming a free agent.

The Wolves scooped him up for a training camp deal and later signed him to a two-way contract. Garza was nothing spectacular averaging 6.5 PPG in his 28 games played, 243 minutes in total this past season. However, he was able to offer energy, offense, and depth when the Wolves dealt with a plethora of injuries. It’s still uncertain what Minnesota will do with Garza this off-season, but they got value from signing him to a two-way deal.

Nathan Knight found himself in a similar situation. Undrafted out of William & Mary in 2020, Knight signed with the Atlanta Hawks on a two-way contract. He got depth minutes for the Hawks but didn’t see much playing time because the G-League didn’t have a season in 2020-21 due to the pandemic. Atlanta let him go in the off-season, allowing the Wolves to scoop him up on another two-way deal. Nate proved to be a reliable depth big. He provided energy and positional flexibility for the Wolves during another pandemic-plagued season. Knight also played with the Iowa Wolves, which helped keep him fresh and work on his game with extended minutes.

Knight did enough to earn a full roster spot with the Wolves in 2022-23. He also earned a $1.836 million payday for another season, with a 2023-24 option. Nonetheless, they found another affordable depth option, a two-way player who was comfortable with the players, organization, and coaching.

Lastly, Jordan McLaughlin was Minnesota’s original two-way gem. JMac went undrafted after an impressive four-year career starting at USC, where he averaged 12.9 points and 5.8 assists a game. McLaughlin signed a training camp deal with the Brooklyn Nets out of college and played with their Summer League team. However, they did not add him to the roster and relegated him to their G-League affiliate, where he spent the entire season.

Similar to Knight and Garza, the Wolves signed McLaughlin to a two-way deal in his second season. In 2019-20 and 2020-21, JMac played on a two-way contract in his first two seasons with Minnesota. But he crept into the rotation and started to show flashes of what he could offer as a backup point guard, earning a 3-year, $6.48 million contract. For a steal of a price, the Wolves got guard depth and backup PG minutes. But McLaughlin regressed last year as he dealt with injuries and was unplayable towards the end of the season. However, similar to Minnesota’s other two-way contract finds, getting reliable depth from an affordable player who’s familiar with the system is valuable.

The Wolves have to find a way to get players on affordable contracts,. They shipped out unprotected first-round picks in 2023, 2025, and 2027, a pick swap in 2026, and a top-5 protected 2029 first-round selection to the Utah Jazz in the Rudy Gobert trade. The Wolves already have a promising young core. But as we’ve seen in the playoffs, teams need reliable role players. Even when they have high-end players like the Phoenix Suns. Therefore, teams that lack assets must be crafty to fill out their roster. Not only do they need players who can play viable minutes in a crucial game, but for depth to get through the 82-game regular season.

Fortunately, Sachin Gupta and Tim Connelly have a great track record with undrafted pickups, second-round steals, and moves around the margins. However, they’ll have to continue to maximize the spot now that the CBA has expanded it, giving them even more freedom to fill out the roster and find more hidden gems.

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