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Will Taurean Prince Maintain His Efficiency in a Low-Usage Role?

Prince had a bounce-back season as a role player for the Wolves last season, and his ability to stay effective in limited opportunities will be huge for Minnesota in 2022-23.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Four Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

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. 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 Jordan McLaughlin, click here.

Taurean Prince was surprisingly effective in his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and that 2021-22 effort earned him a new contract with the team. Now he faces the challenge of matching that level of play in year two in Minnesota on a team that’s expecting to make the playoffs rather than hoping to.

Prince came to the Wolves with plenty to prove. A nagging high ankle sprain had diminished his production the previous two seasons, and his future was uncertain entering the final year on his deal. Healthy for the first time in years, though, he carved out a spot in head coach Chris Finch’s rotation, which needed length and athleticism on the wing.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Playing another strong season is particularly important to Prince because the second year of his two-year contract is non-guaranteed. That means he’s essentially playing in another contract year, so it would behoove him to maintain the groove he found last season.

The key to that resurgent year — and therefore to proving himself in this 2022-23 campaign — is efficiency in a low-usage role. Prince’s 17.0 usage percentage was the lowest in his six seasons per Basketball-Reference; Minnesota’s existing offensive talent freed him from on-ball responsibility and allowed him to key in on easier, high-percentage looks. He put up career-highs in both true shooting percentage (58.9%) and effective field goal percentage (56.4%) as a result.

Prince’s off-ball function showed itself most in his effectiveness inside the arc. He shot 56.5% on 2-pointers, the first time he’s even cleared 50%.

The role improved Prince’s efficiency all over the court. He shot the best and second-best percentages of his career from 0-3 and 3-10 feet out at 67.6% and 46.3%, respectively; he also cut down on long twos, taking a career-low share of his attempts from 10-16 feet (6.2%) and 16-3P (3.8%).

One key here was the advantageous position Prince was put in to attack closeouts. We’ll talk more about his effectiveness as a spot-up shooter in a bit, but the fact that defenses had to respect both his shot and his teammates opened up driving lanes. And once he got to the basket, Prince flashed some nice change-of-pace and crafty finishing.

Another factor was Prince’s willingness to run in transition, where he set a career-high in frequency per He fit in well with Minnesota’s high-octane pace, using his quick trigger to get out and run as well as his defensive disruption to get some easy looks.

Prince also took his 3-and-D role to heart. He took 58.7% of his shots from behind the arc, another career-high, and shot a solid 37.6% from there according to Basketball-Reference. Basing more of his offense around the 3-point line while not actually taking more long-range attempts (3.3 per game, second-lowest of his career) meant he got more value out of each shot while also relying more on open looks.

More evidence that Prince kept it simple: 49.1% of his field goal attempts were catch-and-shoot threes, and he shot 38.5% on these looks per Prince’s 3-point accuracy has fluctuated over the years — he’s reached as high as 40% and as low as 32.4% — but a consistent spot-up role should keep him reliably capable as a floor-spacer.

In previous years, Prince spent more of his time trying to create for himself and others off the dribble, in large part because his teams needed it. Playing a smaller role with the offensively gifted Wolves made those playmaking skills more of a luxury than a necessity, and Prince proved he’s willing and capable in that role.

Prince faces more competition in the rotation than he did a year ago. Jaden McDaniels has ascended to the starting small forward spot and Kyle Anderson will claim plenty of the bench forward minutes. Even Bryn Forbes’ impressive preseason shooting could eat into Prince’s minutes off the bench.

What Anderson and Forbes lack, though, is proof of success in Minnesota’s system. Even if other factors are in flux, Finch will feel reasonably confident that he can throw Prince out there and get 15-20 minutes of solid wing play. Don’t underestimate how much NBA coaches value reliability.

In 2021-22, Prince had the kind of 3-and-D wing season that NBA teams are ravenous for, and that’s a player type the Wolves need. We’ll see if he can replicate — or even improve on — that season. If he does either, it will go a long way toward Minnesota reaching its ceiling.