After signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves following the conclusion of the 2019 NBA Draft, Naz Reid didn’t mince words with his feelings about his standing in the league, even before playing a single minute in the NBA.
“I say this in the humblest way: I don’t feel like there’s many guys who can compare to me in certain aspects. I’m just happy I got a chance to prove it.”
Boy, has Naz Reid gotten a chance to prove himself so far this season in Minnesota. After Karl-Anthony Towns was knocked out with a wrist injury against the Utah Jazz in the Wolves’ second game of the season (and later diagnosed with COVID-19), Reid was forced to step up in a major way. We’ve learned over the last week that you could even make an argument he’s been one of the Wolves’ most pivotal players.
Obviously, everything runs through and around Towns when the two-time All-Star is on the floor. When he’s off the floor, the challenge becomes trying to replicate even a lite version of what he can do in order to make things easier for the other four starters. So, naturally, Towns’ absence has unearthed a fast track for Reid’s development, and has unintentionally made him one of the Timberwolves’ most important pieces moving forward.
In place of KAT, the former LSU stand-out has averaged 12.1 points on 52.6/40.4/76.6 shooting splits, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.5 blocks, and 1.3 turnovers in 21.7 minutes per game. All of those numbers are career highs, including his shooting numbers.
As the numbers would suggest, Reid has made major advancements in his game in year two, which he’s showcased with the added freedom on the offensive end.
First and foremost, Reid has become a much improved shooter from behind the arc. This is arguably the best improvement Reid could’ve made, considering that Towns is one of the three best shooting bigs to ever lace ‘em up and, in turn, creates great spacing for teammates with his heavy shooting gravity.
Reid showed a consistent ability to knock down 3s off pick-and-pops last year playing for the Iowa Wolves, but could never find the touch in the NBA. This year, the sophomore is doing that and more, on his way to shooting 40.4 percent from deep, compared to just 33.0 percent in his rookie season.
Ryan Saunders believes in Naz Reid so much that he has run plays specifically to utilize Reid’s shooting ability. Here, Reid sets a back screen for NBA Star Malik Beasley, and then receives a screen from Okogie and pops to the corner, where displays his he drains a contested corner 3.
Even in unscripted offense, Reid is a smart off-ball player and has a very good understanding of how to effectively space the floor and react off drives. In this play, Reid sees Beasley drive on the weak side and knows that Nikola Vucevic is going to help on the drive. Instead of sitting on the block for no reason, he flies out to the corner and drains a wide open 3 off the nice feed.
As defenses begin to respect his shot, bigs will begin to set up further outside the paint to defend him. When that happens, he can make his defenders pay both on the roll and off the dribble. But until that happens consistently, he has the moves and shotmaking arsenal to make the most of the space he does get in the mid-range before meeting his defender.
Thanks to his, Reid has been hyper-efficient as a roll man in the PnR game in 2021. He ranks in the 88th percentile league-wide, generating 1.385 points per possession as the roll man, per Synergy Sports. Last season, he ranked in the 21st percentile, generating just 0.901 points per possession.
On this screen and roll, Reid receives a pass at the free throw line with plenty of room to work. Instead of immediately putting the ball on the deck, he gives James Wiseman a good ball fake, takes his space with a dribble, and drains a tear drop over his out-stretched arm for two. Pretty stuff.
In the half court, Reid is used very frequently as a dribble hand-off partner with Wolves guards. Just as teams began to expect Reid to just hand the ball off and slow down the ball handler’s defender, he showed them something else he has in the bag: a good handle for someone of his size and experience, and the acceleration to match it.
Reid realizes that John Collins is cheating on the Beasley curl, so he immediately gets downhill before Collins can get into a position to seal off the rim and finishes through contact for a nice bucket at the rim. We will see more and more of this as the season goes on.
At 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Reid has been a handful in the post this year, too. He has wasted no time diagnosing matchups he wants to take into the post and has shown off an improved jump hook over either shoulder to finish off good post-up possessions.
Here, instead of hitting Jordan McLaughlin on the opposite wing, Reid sees he has a smaller defender on him in Khem Birch. He goes right to work taking his space, hits him with a pump fake, and finishes with his left hand.
Smaller defenders are simply unable to deal with Reid’s added strength. The best part about that? He knows it.
This baseline out of bounds play is again designed to get the ball in Reid’s hands to score. The Wolves get a matchup they like with Reid posting Harry Giles III, and it’s a wrap. All it takes for him to get to his spot is two quick dribbles to get into the paint and from there, he just elevates for a simple and-1.
Whether it be on the drive or in the post, Reid’s finishing has improved greatly around the rim. He shot just 59.8 percent at the rim and 25.0 percent from 3-10 feet last season, respectively. This season, he is shooting 70.0 percent at the rim and 44.7 percent in the short mid-range. That is truly incredible improvement for a young, offensively-minded player.
Perhaps more surprising than anything we’ve learned about Naz Reid on the offensive end is the leap he’s taken as a defender this season.
Last season, Reid got beat consistently off the dribble and didn’t have the agility to recover and contest shots at the rim. Even when he was in good position at the rim, he often got caught in the air, and fouled defenders unnecessarily.
This season, Reid’s feet are quicker and his positioning is better. He’s able to wall off smaller players on the drive, hold his ground against larger defenders, and blocking shots at a higher rate (2.5 blocks per 36 minutes this season to 1.6 last season), as well as fouling at a lower rate (5.3 fouls per 36 minutes to 6.0) this season.
Here, instead of hacking one of the league’s elite finishers in DeMar DeRozan, Reid jumps with perfect verticality to block the shot in transition. The agility needed to move your feet and get in position for a block like this makes pulling this off tough for a guard, let alone a 250-pound big man.
While he’s much improved on the offensive end in the post, he has made a similar jump on the defensive end. Last season, Reid ranked in the 12th percentile in post-up defense, surrendering 1.2 points per post-up, per Synergy. This season, he ranks in the 77th percentile, largely because of plays like this:
Jakob Poetl gets a deep catch and, because of that, thinks he can just rise and finish for an easy bucket. Instead of letting Poetl dictate the physicality of the matchup, Reid becomes the aggressor, takes his space, and swallows his shot before it even had a chance.
Drivers haven’t faired much better attacking Reid, either. To go with his improved agility and lateral quickness, Reid has displayed incredible hands and timing to disrupt plays defensively.
In this play, Eric Paschall tries to get him with a hesitation move, but Reid moves his feet to maintain good positioning. He knows that the ball is going to be exposed if Paschall has to use his off arm to get separation, so he times his swipe perfectly for a block leading to a layup on the other end for J-Mac.
Reid’s improved mobility should enable him to not only play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns in the front court for stretches, but forge a legitimate defensive duo that can dominate the interior.
In Towns’ absence, Reid has proved the value of having a lite version of KAT as his backup. Not only does it ensure Ryan Saunders can play the same offensive and defensive schemes he would if Towns played, but it also allows for other role players (such as Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Jaylen Nowell, and Jarred Vanderbilt) to accurately prepare for what it will be like to take the floor with Towns. Given the emergence of those four players, they could very well see time with KAT, which makes Reid’s fill-in job even more important.
In theater, the main character’s understudy can’t play a completely different role than the main character if supporting characters’ understudies want to be very successful if they are called upon. Had Ed Davis played the majority of the KAT-less minutes at the 5, these players wouldn’t have received the same preparation experience. Davis, for all is he good for on defense and the offensive glass, offers no floor spacing; the Wolves have to adjust their offensive game plan accordingly when he is in.
Will there be some players who can succeed with both Davis and Towns? Absolutely. But the learning curve for these players will likely be much shorter when Towns returns thanks to Reid’s presence. In turn, hopefully Wolves can get back to winning more quickly.
Beyond the immediate future, Minnesota has Naz Reid signed for two more seasons on a minimum deal. That’s incredible value for a player that already has the tools to move the needle for the Timberwolves moving forward. As he continues to sharpen them, the deal will only look better for Gersson Rosas and company.
While the tough circumstances have made it difficult to glean substantial concrete insight into the Timberwolves this season, one seismic thing we’ve learned is that Naz Reid is just scratching the surface of what he can bring to this franchise for years to come.
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