Jordan McLaughlin's Adaptability Remains Invaluable For the Wolves

Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Monte Morris, they were looking to bolster their guard room and bring some high-level experience for the playoffs. While Chris Finch already had the utmost belief in his fifth-year option Jordan McLaughlin, the Wolves have needed a boost and stability at the backup guard spot for a while.

Monte instantly started to eat away at McLaughlin’s minutes. Morris played 16.7 minutes per game in his first 10 games, while McLaughlin saw relevant playtime in only 2. It became clear that the Wolves were phasing out of the rotation moving forward. But a spot in the rotation opened up when Minnesota ruled Karl-Anthony Towns out with a meniscus tear. Chris Finch turned to a reliable option. McLaughlin has run with it, showcasing that he can be a versatile, winning depth player despite his shortcomings.

That has been the theme for McLaughlin throughout his time in Minnesota. He will have his highs and lows like every other role player. But when chaos strikes, the Wolves always know they have a steady option to go to clean things up. McLaughlin has frequently changed roles, going from a DNP to an important rotational backup to a playoff rotational player. He has battled through multiple injuries and inconsistency with his three-point shot.

The Wolves have tried other guard options with Shake Milton, Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes, Leandro Bolmaro, and Jaylen Nowell. But they always seem to fall back on McLaughlin’s stable traits to stabilize their bench units. And that’s exactly where Finch has gone again this year.

He could have given other players like T.J. Warren or Josh Minott minutes. Or he could have completely allocated the minutes to the rest of the critical role players, like Naz Reid or Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Instead, he has rolled with more multi-guard lineups, including playing Morris and McLaughlin together.

Finch trusts McLaughlin because he knows exactly what he will get from him. At a potentially generously listed 6’0”, McLaughlin is a severely undersized player by today’s NBA standards. But he’s a pesky and intelligent defender, a connective piece offensively, a ball mover, and helps all of his teammates who share the court with him.

McLaughlin’s recent success has mainly come from his recent three-point shooting streak. In his 12 games played since the All-Star break, McLaughlin is shooting 17 of 27 (63%) from three on 2.3 attempts per game. Opposing defenses are still not respecting him. But if he can effectively knock down wide-open looks and space off the ball, he will provide offensive value.

McLaughlin’s shooting streak is unsustainable, but it highlights how vital he is to the middle-of-the-game lineups when his shot falls.

Finch and the Wolves front office have targeted a specific type of complementary guard. People have compared Conley, Morris, and McLaughlin to a Pokémon evolution. They have similar playstyles but the ability to level up as you go up the pecking order. They are a trio of unselfish ball movers with an excellent feel for the game, allowing the Wolves to experiment with more two-guard lineups, including two of those three on the court simultaneously.

Here is how successful those McLaughlin-Conley, McLaughlin-Morris, and Conley-Morris lineups have fared for the Wolves this season:

Morris’s numbers are a small sample size and lean toward negative lineups. Furthermore, two-man lineups are not the perfect way to examine the units’ success, especially given the many substitution patterns these players follow. Therefore, this is the perfect time to experiment.

For example, the most frequently used five-man lineup is the unit with Conley, Anderson, McLaughlin, Alexander-Walker, and Reid, who have only played 17 minutes together. That includes McLaughlin and Conley, who have played 115 minutes together. Nonetheless, the Wolves have gotten more on-court reps with these combinations to see how they could fare moving forward.

It’s hard to predict where the Wolves will distribute those minutes come playoff time because we don’t have a status update on KAT. Towns’ injury has forced the Wolves to change, and they have seen more lineup change and versatility in the process. The archetypes of this guard room allow a lot of freedom of change if the Wolves want to change their rotations in the middle of a playoff series.

Ultimately, the Wolves have gotten every penny’s worth in Jordan McLaughlins’s three-year, $6.48 million contract. His ability to always be ready to clean up Minnesota’s messiest situations throughout the season – bringing familiarity, high impact, and low usage play to the team – is not something teams can easily find. It takes time, and players must earn that trust.

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Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

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