After months of waiting for the inevitable, the NBA recently announced that the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with seven other cellar dwellers spread across the two conferences, are officially in offseason mode. In the new post-COVID-19 break format, 22 teams (13 Western Conference squads and 9 Eastern Conference squads) will play eight “seeding games” at the Walt Disney World Resort before a potential play-in tournament and playoffs kick off.
Sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference when the season was halted, the Wolves will obviously not travel to Orlando. And, if the league office’s plan plays out smoothly, it could be an unfathomably long wait before we get to see the Wolves lace ‘em up again.
If next season does, in fact, start on Christmas, the Timberwolves will have gone 289 days between games. https://t.co/wQe9MsvSYl— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) June 3, 2020
In Canis Hoopus’ Offseason Outlook series, we will attempt to examine exactly what areas individual players need to work on during their extended break. That doesn’t mean umbrella terms like shooting or defense, but the more specific skill sets that go into progression as a player.
Players with non-guaranteed deals whose future is still very much up in the air like Jaylen Nowell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Jordan McLaughlin and Kelan Martin will be excluded unless they do in fact re-sign with the team. However, Naz Reid, who is non-guaranteed himself, seems like an exception because he is extremely likely to return next season, so we will start with him.
With injury and trades decimating the Timberwolves big man stocks last season, Reid found himself rising from undrafted free agent out of LSU to a starting center in the Association. In the 30 games he featured in, the 20-year-old averaged 9.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. As a starter (11 games) those numbers ballooned to 11.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks a night.
An impressive maiden season to be sure, but there is plenty of areas Reid needs to improve to come back a better player in year two. Let’s take a deeper look.
Verticality On Defense
If there was one thing that stood out in just about every game Naz Reid featured in, it was his inability to stay out of foul trouble. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 0.17 fouls per minute. Among all players who played at least 30 games, only seven players watched the referee blow the whistle in their direction at a higher rate.
Fairly slow feet and hips combined with subpar athleticism forced Reid’s hand as a defender, but he also compounded the problem by swiping down and consistently trying make a defensive play; instead of just staying vertical and forcing defenders to score over the big body.
Take this clip, which was plucked from the pile of examples Reid showcased during his 495-minute NBA career thus far. After the fridge-like frame of Nikola Jokic eliminates Josh Okogie from the pick-and-roll coverage, it’s up to Reid to try and thwart a downhill skiing Will Barton. The rookie does a good job sliding his feet and staying with Barton, but he stumbles at the finish line, allowing his body to fold like an armchair over the Nuggets wing, who is ever-so-happy to embellish the contact and get himself to the charity stripe.
Of course, it’s easy to say from the comfort of my couch, but Reid needs to really work on finishing this defensive play strong. Instead of always trying to make the “wow” play, simply staying vertical would suffice. This would allow him to earn more trust from head coach Ryan Saunders, thus allowing him to stay on the court for longer stints and (hopefully) impact winning at a higher rate.
It’s a skill many big men never perfect, but Reid doesn’t need to be the ultimate defender; he just needs minor improvements to stop his fouling everyone he comes into contact with. Reps on reps on reps are what’s needed in this particular area, and nearly 300 days of offseason should do him wonders.
Hook Shot Touch & Body Control
According to Basketball Index, Reid finished in the 53rd percentile as a post-up player last season (0.53 points per possession). For an undrafted rookie that was tossed into the scorching flames of an NBA starter’s role, that’s something to feel confident about. However, enhancing the touch of his hook shot to make it his bread and butter on the block will go a long way to making Reid a really effective post player.
Below is a small smattering of Reid’s failed hook shot attempts. You can see immediately that his body is often flailing and his balance is completely out of whack. Way too often Reid ends up looking like a plastic bag caught in the wind rather than a graceful post player, causing him to forego balance and a clean follow-through. Even when he does seem to be more controlled, his touch is off and he has a tendency to leave his hooks way short or long.
Most of the time, Reid will look to face-up and bury his way to the basket, but 36 percent of his post opportunities still end in a hook shot. He flashed a variety of moves and countermoves in the post, including flashy spins and drop-steps, which provide a solid basis for post scoring. But, he needs to be able to finish at a high level to make the dying art of the post-up a feasible play call to run for him.
Basketball Index’s “post impact metric” is classified as points scored per 75 offensive possessions on court from post-ups above/below what league-average efficiency would yield. Reid’s impact is -0.5, ranking him in just the 3rd percentile league-wide. A lot of this stems from his inability to get to his hook shot and subsequent ineffectiveness when he does get there. His erratic hook shot attempts stink of a rookie who is still adapting to facing bigger, stronger and more athletic NBA bigs who speed up the game for any first-timer. It will be interesting to see if Reid can improve over the break and come back as a more polished post presence.
Jump Shot Speed
The biggest allure in Reid’s game is his ability to spring behind the 3-point arc and nail triples. The smooth, easy-looking stroke and willingness to fire away indicate Reid may become a valuable stretch five one day, but, not for lack of trying, he struggled to tickle the twine in year one.
The big man hit 33 percent of his 3.2 attempts a game, which is a fine number for a rookie learning the ropes, but fans and front office alike would love to see that number start to ascend as his career progresses. If it does, it would likely be because he made minor adjustments to the speed in which he loaded and unloaded his jump shot.
Overall, his mechanics are solid, but he takes too long to wind up the jumper and it costs him precious seconds and open acres of space. In those milliseconds, efficiency numbers tend to free-fall around the league. Not the greatest example, but you can see here how quickly the shot goes from open to contested (and missed) as he takes that fraction of a second to charge up.
His long-winded shot also clearly causes Reid to hesitate at times, knowing he won’t be able to launch before a recovering defender closes in on him and clogs up his airspace. This leads to ill-advised passes and drives when a jump shot would have been available with a quicker release. He doesn’t need to rework his shot, just streamline the mechanics a touch.
Of course, tinkering with a jump shot is tricky and could take more than just an offseason — even an extended one — to complete. No better time to start than the present, though.