The Wolves Unlocked Something By Starting Naz Reid

Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Naz Reid.

Those two words were the only thing you could see or hear inside Target Center on Friday after in-arena host Jon Berry instructed the sold-out crowd to hold up their complementary Naz Reid towels. Reid had just connected on a corner triple with 2:25 left in the fourth, putting the Minnesota Timberwolves up 99-87 over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It was amazing,” Reid responded postgame when a reporter asked him what it felt like hearing the crowd chant his name. “It’s something you dream about, especially at this level. It’s love. There is so much support. Everyone has seen how much I’ve worked since Day 1 up until now, and there is more to come. I would definitely appreciate as much support as possible.”

Reid entered the game questionable to play with a head injury that kept him out for Minnesota’s prior contest, but he tacked on 18 points against Cleveland. It was a good performance but hardly his best this season. However, the hometown crowd erupted more than usual with every bucket he made, especially after his triple late in the fourth. It forced Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff to call timeout and all but secured the win.

Reid was starting alongside Rudy Gobert for the first time since February 5, 2023. Chris Finch noted pregame that the Wolves have remained flexible during this stretch of injuries to their rotational big men. Finch and his staff could have started Reid over Kyle Anderson because of Cleveland’s size and the dominance they frequently show in the paint. However, the Wolves found something of tremendous value offensively by inserting Reid into the starting lineup.

Until last weekend, the Wolves played seven games without Towns after he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee on March 6. In six of those games, Anderson filled in for Towns in the starting lineup, which is nothing new. Kyle started 42 games when Karl was out with his left calf strain last season.

Finch has turned to the lineup of Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Anderson, and Gobert for 110 minutes this season. During that span, the lineup has registered a -8.05 net rating, a 101.36 offensive rating (13.24 points lower than their season average), and a 109.42 defensive rating (1.1 points higher than season average) while shooting 47.6% from the floor, and 33.3% from deep, according to PBP stats.

That lineup worked for the Wolves last season. In 253 minutes together, they recorded a +6.77 net rating, a 122.1 offensive rating, and a 115.4 defensive rating. Anderson slid seamlessly next to Gobert and helped unlock the team-wide offense once Towns went down. Minnesota’s backcourt struggled to get acclimated to a two-big lineup. But the ball flowed once Slow-Mo – a traditional 4 – was starting, and their offensive execution meaningfully improved.

However, after KAT’s injury this season, it’s obvious the Wolves were missing 22 points per game and his floor spacing. You can’t remove a player of Towns’ caliber from a lineup and expect the aftermath to be perfect. But replacing his 5.3 threes per game with a player who has made eight all season created further issues.

Minnesota was comfortable with Towns in the lineup at the time of his injury, in contrast to when he was injured last season. While he is a versatile defender, the advanced numbers prove that Kyle starting at the 4 doesn’t translate to high-level team play.

The Wolves must manufacture 22 points per game with KAT out, and there isn’t a linear path to that goal. Instead, the team can lock down on defense, move the ball better, and promote more off-ball scoring. But the Timberwolves can uniquely replicate Karl’s presence in the starting lineup with a fan favorite off the bench.

“I’ve always been a big believer that shooting comes from the spacing,” Finch responded when asked about an overall uptick in three-point attempts following KAT’s injury. “If we space well and create the right advantages, then we should be able to get to the right shots from the three-point line. Naz has committed to taking eight threes per game, and Mike took eight, so guys are just committed to taking the three, particularly when it’s been created for them.”

As Finch points out, Reid is averaging just under eight three-pointers attempted since the Wolves lost KAT a few weeks ago. Through the first 63 games of the season, Naz attempted 4.6 threes per game. It has been a small sample size, but Reid replicates Karl’s spacing and gravity on offense. Most likely, that’s not Naz’s conscious decision. Instead, Minnesota’s coaching staff involves him in a slew of set plays that force him to live behind the arc, which can only lead to positives offensively and gives the team a wrinkle that Slow-Mo doesn’t.

Above, we see Reid engaged in what appears to be an ordinary dribble hand-off with Edwards. However, what makes this play unique to the Wolves and incredibly lethal is that the 7-foot-1 Gobert lurks in the weakside dunker’s spot.

That exact play from Friday night against the Cavs didn’t result in any points, but the possibilities for a high-level bucket are everywhere.

  • 1st possibility: Edwards kicks the ball back out to Reid for an open spot-up triple if the defense incorrectly helps or doesn’t read the switch properly.
  • 2nd possibility: Edwards rises up for a mid-range jumper over the mismatched defender.
  • 3rd possibility: Edwards attacks into the paint, forcing Gobert’s defender to come out of the restricted area, and floats an easy lob up to Rudy.
  • 4th possibility: Edwards attacks off the screen, draws a crowd of defenders, and sprays the ball out to McDaniels or Conley – two high-level shooters from the corners.

The Wolves can’t execute this play, along with any other pick-and-pop, when Anderson and Gobert are on the court together. That usually would not be an issue. The Timberwolves could simply remove the PnP from their arsenal and focus on pick-and-rolls with Rudy. However, the Wolves can’t afford to lose any three-point shooting as long as KAT is out. It appears the coaching staff is well aware of that with their decision to insert Reid into the starting lineup in Minnesota’s two most recent games while still keeping the starting 4 position situational.

After the win over Cleveland, a reporter asked Finch about his decision to start Anderson at the four over Reid coming out of halftime.

Video courtesy of Minnesota Timberwolves YouTube Channel

Finch and his staff will keep the 4 position situational and stagger the minutes, as they have for the entire season, regardless of who is out. However, starting games with Reid on the floor immediately put opposing teams in defensive binds.

When Naz accompanies Conley, Edwards, McDaniels, and Gobert on the floor, the Wolves have a +15.5 net rating, a 109.9 offensive rating, and a ridiculous 94.3 defensive rating in 98 minutes. The advanced numbers say the defense has been that five-man lineup’s greatest strength this season. However, the eye test says offense has also been positive because of the play possibility and unique size, which is similar to how it is with KAT playing.

The one drawback of starting Reid is that the Wolves get less scoring off the bench. Minnesota’s bench owns a 53 offensive rating this season, ranking 24th league-wide. Generating consistent production amongst the bench mob has been the Wolves’ overarching bugaboo this season. Aside from Naz, they don’t have a player capable of generating his own offense and picking up some offensive slack when Edwards and Towns are resting. However, certain lineups and a greater emphasis on ball movement can help mask the lack of scoring. It’s another spot where Minnesota’s roster gives them an advantage.

On Sunday, the Wolves effectively used a unique roster against the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter. Canis Hoopus’ Jack Borman highlighted Minnesota’s success with their Monte Morris, Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Anderson, and Gobert lineup.

According to PBP stats, in 5:06 minutes together, that lineup outscored the Warriors 19-8 while shooting 8 of 12 from the floor and 3 of 5 from deep. After a first half dominated by Reid and Edwards (both combined for 31 points while the rest of the roster had 15 points), Finch found success with a three-point guard lineup in the second half. That lineup took pressure off the starters and compensated for a lack of isolation scoring off the bench.

Reid starting means Minnesota’s coaching staff must get creative with lineups and minutes. However, they don’t need to draw up any new plays to get Big Jelly engaged on offense. He has been able to fit in seamlessly for Towns and replicate the four-time All-Star’s gravity. It has been a small sample size of just two games. Still, the early results prove Reid – who is 9 of 16 from deep during that stretch – should hear the Timberwolves’ PA Annoncer Jedidiah Jones say, “Yes indeed, it’s Naz Reid,” during player introductions before every single game where KAT is inactive.

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