When the Minnesota Timberwolves brought in Naz Reid during undrafted free agency following the 2019 NBA Draft, fans of the team didn’t know too much about the big man.
Reid was the 12th ranked prospect in the 2018 ESPN Top 100 but he underperformed in his lone year at Louisiana State University, which led to him going undrafted. He then chose to sign a two-way deal with the Timberwolves. He performed so well in the 2019 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas that the Wolves rewarded him with a four-year contract - though only the first year was fully guaranteed.
In his first season, Reid spent much of his time in Iowa before injuries led to him getting some run with the Timberwolves. He flashed a lot of skills throughout his rookie year, but it was clear that he was unpolished and needed to work on his body.
His sophomore season came around and Reid was clearly in better shape. He was a regular in the Timberwolves rotation, playing in 70 of the Wolves 72 games. He averaged 19.2 minutes per night and all signs pointed to him being the Karl-Anthony Towns facsimile for the second unit.
Fast forward to this season, Reid appears to have worked on his body even more. He slimmed down once again and increased his athleticism. That is clear by some of the dunks that he throws down, which leave fans and teammates awestruck.
In his third year, Naz Reid is quicker, more agile, boucnier, and … worse?
What Has Went Wrong?
That’s right. I hate to admit it, but Reid has had himself a down year. This truly does pain me to write, as I have been in on Reid since the Wolves signed him two and a half years ago. I bought into the idea that he could replicate many of Towns’ skills with the Wolves’ reserves, which would bolster a solid second unit. That, unfortunately, hasn’t come to fruition like you’d hope it would. While the Wolves as a whole have looked like a much more competent team than in the past, Reid’s flashes in the pan haven’t been frequent enough to consider this season a positive on his end.
After averaging 9.0 and 11.2 points per game respectively in his first two years, Reid finds himself scoring just 8.8 points a night in his third year campaign. His minutes have decreased some, but he’s scoring 2.0 points per 100 possessions worse this year than last year. The finger can be pointed to his drop in efficiency this season. After shooting 59.7% from two and 35.1% from three last season, Reid has dropped those figures down to just 52.1% and 34.0% respectively.
But, the efficiency (or lack thereof) isn’t what has been the most noticeable negative this season. Reid has seriously struggled to find his footing with all lineup combinations when on the court. He has simply been an ineffective player this season.
For someone known as an offensive player, Reid hasn’t pulled through on that end. Not only are his shooting percentages down this season, Naz finds himself as the worst offensive player in the Wolves rotation, according to offensive rating (100.3). Now I know individual offensive rating is a flawed metric to use for an individual player, but Reid’s best two-man offensive pairing is Towns and their 108.3 offensive rating doesn’t jump off the charts, especially considering they’re surrendering 115.6 points per 100 possessions when on the court together.
In fact, Reid has only one positive net-rating in any two-man pairing and that comes in the 134 minutes he has shared with Josh Okogie. Still, they only break into the positive side by .7 points per 100 possessions.
So far, Reid has not been as productive as the Timberwolves have needed him to be this season.
Is it Time to Move On?
I won’t sit here and argue that Naz Reid is a bad basketball player and doesn’t have the talent to be in the NBA. I actually believe that is far from the truth. I think Reid has the talent, if consistent enough, to start for a number of teams around the league. The problem is that he hasn’t been consistent, ever since coming into the NBA.
Reid is still young — 22 years, in fact — but I think the biggest thing that’s hurting his chances at being consistent is Karl-Anthony Towns playing in front of him. No matter how good he gets, it is impossible to warrant taking any of Towns’ minutes and handing them over to Naz. Towns has averaged 34 minutes per game throughout his career and will continue to do so for many years to come. Reid is pigeon-holed into that 14 minutes that remains when Towns isn’t on the floor.
While arguments have been (and continue to be) made for playing the pair of centers together, the Wolves just have yet to find success that warrants them doing that. Those two, as previously mentioned, get outscored by more than seven points per 100 possessions when sharing the court.
So, from the looks of it, the Timberwolves need to find a way for Naz Reid to be successful in his backup role or they need to move on from him, not due to lack of talent, but lack of fit and need.
I’m not ready to say that Reid should be gone, because I still find value in what he brings to this team. He is the best roll man on the roster, he shoots that ball at a clip high enough to get respect from defenses or to make the opposition pay when that respect isn’t given, and he has continued to flash impressive play at a young age.
That begs the question; what do you do to make Naz successful and is it worth pouring assets, time, energy into doing so for a 14 minute backup center role? If you believe that it is worth those things, there are a number of ways to increase Reid’s impact on the team.
Reid’s best skill is playing as the roll man in a pick and roll. He flashed that skillset so much last season when playing with Jordan McLaughlin. To utilize his skills more in this area would be a welcomed sight. While McLaughlin’s play this season has found himself a spot out of the rotation, D’Angelo Russell remains a very good pocket passer in the pick and roll. The problem is, D’Angelo Russell is a starter and Reid comes off the bench, which means they don’t share the court a ton. Russell typically is the first sub out of the game for the Timberwolves and then comes back in to play with the second unit, but still Russell plays nearly 23 of his 32 minutes per game with Karl-Anthony Towns, which means there is only 9 minutes where he can share the court with Reid if you believe that Reid and Towns shouldn’t play together.
The solution to this would be bringing in a backup point guard at the trade deadline that can operate in the pick and roll with Naz. While we know McLaughlin can do this, it isn’t a big enough positive to put McLaughlin back in the rotation. Patrick Beverley, the Wolves other point guard, isn’t a good pick and roll playmaker, so that pairing likely isn’t fruitful either.
The other facet of Naz Reid’s game that keeps him from being a clear positive is his lack of rebounding skills. Of all centers who have averaged 10 minutes per game and played in at least 10 games this season, Reid ranks 57th out of 78 eligible players in defensive rebounding percentage at 15.8%. Much of this has to do with Reid being only 6-foot-9, but even with all of the body transformation he has done, he has yet to figure out how to grow a few inches taller.
My proposed fix — or at least mend — for this problem is finding another big to play next to Karl-Anthony Towns and shifting Jarred Vanderbilt to the bench. This isn’t to suggest that Vanderbilt solely plays with the bench unit or that the aforementioned hypothetical acquisition solely plays next to Towns, but rather that the Timberwolves are adding another big bodied, defensive focused rebounder to the frontcourt rotation.
While adding a player could potentially cut into the overall minutes for Reid or Vanderbilt, the hope would be that the minutes actually cut into Jaden McDaniels’ minutes at the 4 spot and push him to the 3 on a full-time basis. That, likely, means that Taurean Prince’s role would dissolve - heck, he would probably be going out in the trade anyway.
So, after a long-winded run-around-way of trying to answer the question of if the Timberwolves should be ready to move on from Naz Reid, I’ll concisely say this: no.
Don’t think of it as pouring assets, time, and energy into your backup center like I mentioned earlier, think of it as pouring assets, time, and energy into bolstering your second unit that has left your team sputtering far too many times this season. The two mentioned moves would allow the Timberwolves to get players into more natural positions that complement their skillsets. Jaylen Nowell could play more as a secondary passer, rather than the point guard of the bench mob and Jaden McDaniels could move to the wing and work on developing his game there.
The whole issue hasn’t been just Reid, it’s been the bench as a whole. But making moves to help Naz will likely help the unit and thus, the entire team.