The Minnesota Timberwolves have undergone massive changes in the 2022 offseason, and it’s worth wondering how exactly it will all come together for Minnesota in 2022-23 as they look to build on a promising year. Each week from now until the start of preseason in October, I will be writing about one specific thing for each potential rotation player that I am most intrigued to see in terms of how the team ultimately fits. For the previous story on Jaylen Nowell, click here.
Jordan McLaughlin’s NBA career has been a case study in maximizing one’s strengths. That a sub-6-foot, undrafted guard with good-not-great athleticism has stuck on an up-and-coming roster and earned some calls for an increased role is a testament to his heady game and real talent as a playmaker.
To be a consistent contributor, though, he has to add more dimensions to his game. Getting back to the role he carried a few years ago — when he hovered close to 20 minutes per game on a much worse team — will require him to round out his skillset. And at age 26, he needs to make significant strides in that regard this season.
The most valuable ability McLaughlin can incorporate is off-the-dribble scoring. Not only will it improve his points production, the capability to put the ball in the bucket at any time will keep defenders honest and free up his expert distribution.
Only 13 of the 153 guards who logged at least 900 minutes in 2021-22 took fewer than McLaughlin’s 36 pull-up field goal attempts per NBA.com. When combined with his iffy 40.3 effective field goal percentage on those shots, it’s clear this just isn’t a part of his arsenal right now.
Most undersized guards, such as Jalen Brunson or Darius Garland, hang their hat on their fluidity and success in turning dribble moves into shots; it’s what they build their game around, the key factor in their ability to even play at an NBA level. Lacking this skill entirely hamstrings McLaughlin’s game and heightens the degree of difficulty.
You can tell from his tape that he isn’t comfortable with these kinds of shots. His release is a tad slow and clunky, allowing defenders to contest. He also often opts for difficult fading floaters to get his shot off.
McLaughlin only shot 7-of-24 (29%) on pull-up 3s last season, and you can see more of the discomfort in his gather on these shots. It can lead to some ugly misses.
The tight quarters of the in-between, midrange game is where a seamless off-the-dribble scoring threat is most necessary. That area is pretty barren in his career shot chart (via StatMuse) and it’s born out in the stats: per Basketball-Reference, only 5.5% of his FGA last season came from between 10 feet out and the 3-point line, and that was easily the largest in his three seasons.
Working on the transition between dribble and shot will add an entirely new space of floor to attack; McLaughlin has solid touch and should be able to convert enough attempts once he’s more at ease getting these attempts up.
Adding this element will open up what he does well: that prolific and efficient playmaking for others.
Among players who played at least 40 games last season, McLaughlin had the fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.74) and third-best assist ratio (41.4) per NBA.com. Assist ratio is the number of assists a player averages per 100 possessions used, and McLaughlin’s success here indicates he’s more than just a game manager. He will create advantages and throw accurate passes that put teammates in positions to score.
Plenty of these assists come when McLaughlin is driving in those areas where pull-up scoring is prevalent, but the defense knows he’s looking to pass. These are impressive finds, but his passing lanes would be even more free if the defense felt it had to commit to stopping him from scoring.
This isn’t to say McLaughlin should start forcing up contested jumpers or look off open teammates for tough floaters. He’s a fun player who makes his teammates better and consistently proves to be a turnover-generating pest on defense. He doesn’t have to become Trae Young to merit a role on this year’s Wolves team, which will likely be in need of ball-movers.
But if you’re one-dimensional in the NBA, at some point that’s going to become a problem. It may be in a race for playoff seeding, it may be in the playoffs themselves, but good teams will make you pay if you don’t have a counter when they plan for your strengths.
Jordan McLaughlin got a taste of playoff ball against the Memphis Grizzlies in April. If he wants to make that a recurring reality, pull-up scoring is the place to start.