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Will Naz Reid Find Success Alongside Rudy Gobert?

Everyone’s been asking how Gobert will fit with Karl-Anthony Towns, but it’s also worth wondering if the Wolves’ backup big can slide next to their offseason acquisition.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via 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 Taurean Prince, click here.

The fit between Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns will determine how successful the Minnesota Timberwolves’ season is. That, along with its unknown impacts on the franchise’s future, is why it has rightfully dominated the discourse around the team this offseason. But that’s not the only big man pairing Minnesota has to make work in the 2022-23 season.

Naz Reid has given the Wolves an advantage the last three seasons by providing real offensive pop as a backup five, but Gobert and KAT are expected to play virtually all 48 of the available center minutes. There won’t be nearly as much opportunity to use his movement and skills against plodding bench centers. After getting some run alongside Towns in a “twin towers” lineup last season, Reid will have to adjust to another two-big lineup alongside Gobert if he wants to play real minutes in a contract year.

Reid shares plenty of similarities with KAT — both have inside-outside skills and even like to operate in similar spots on the court but struggle with the finer points of defense — so, in theory, his fit next to Gobert should be pretty similar to Towns’. There are two problems with that, though: one, we don’t really know what Towns and Gobert will look like together; and two, basketball isn’t played in theory or on paper. Things don’t always go as you expect.

Offense

There are optimistic signs for Reid’s viability with Gobert on offense, especially if the Wolves play to Reid’s strengths.

Reid has plenty of perimeter skill that should keep him and Gobert from mucking up the paint too much. Reid can put it on the floor from the 3-point line and get to the basket, and he’s also clever in the dribble handoff game that can get him free lanes to the basket. Plus, as a 34.3% career 3-point shooter per Basketball-Reference, he presents enough of a shooting threat to keep defenses honest.

Although he has a 178-to-173 assist-to-turnover ratio for his career, Reid flashes adept passing ability in ways that are compatible with Gobert. The third highlight above shows Reid catching on the short roll and dropping a slick dime to Jarred Vanderbilt cutting out of the dunker spot; having Gobert in there as a lob threat will make the read that much easier. It’s very plausible that Reid is a better interior passing partner for Gobert than Towns will be.

One thing Reid could work on to help Gobert is spotting up in the corner. According to his career shot chart from StatMuse, Reid has taken more 3-pointers from the top of the key (also his comfort zone for attacking the basket) than from the two corners combined. With Gobert likely to be used frequently in high pick-and-rolls, Reid would make himself more valuable by expanding outside his preferred area of the court.

That being said, there are ways to use Reid’s force as a roller while sharing the court with Gobert, too. Both of the plays below show Reid scoring as a roll man with another big on the court. Chris Finch will just have to get creative about using Gobert in weakside actions to keep the defense occupied.

The Wolves shouldn’t deprive Reid of opportunities as a roller given that he has averaged respectable marks of 1.15 and 1.16 points per possession in the play type the last two seasons according to NBA.com.

Defense

Again, putting Reid in position to use his positive traits will be key to his defense alongside Gobert. Reid has good reactive athleticism to rotate and make plays on the ball at the rim.

These highlights fire up the team, from the court to the bench, and will help the Wolves maintain the manic intensity that helped cover up for holes in their defensive personnel last season. Minnesota needs as much of that oomph as possible with Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt gone.

Reid’s defense falls flat when he is asked to make more complicated reads and defend in space. Below, he first gets blown by while only lazily swiping at the ball handler before he and Malik Beasley get their assignments confused and allow an easy 3.

Given the relative success teams have had attacking Gobert with perimeter-oriented offenses in previous playoffs, I wouldn’t expect a Reid-Gobert unit to get much run in the postseason. But this specific aspect is worrisome enough that it could make those lineups unplayable well before then.

If Towns and Gobert prove a good partnership, though, there’s no reason it can’t work with Reid — as long as there are some slight tweaks. Finch will have to make use of Reid’s passing and hard rolling talents on offense since he lacks Towns’ elite floor-spacing; get Reid on the move with the ball and a numbers advantage, and he and Gobert can look great together.

On defense, the key will be putting Reid in positions to be a weak-side defender. It won’t be Robert Williams next to Al Horford in Boston, but Reid is plenty capable of timing up some good contests on the occasions Gobert isn’t waiting at the basket.

For an undrafted player spending his first three seasons on a rapidly changing team, Reid has shown he can adapt pretty well to a variety of situations. Now it’s time for him to prove he can co-exist with a completely different kind of big — his spot in Minnesota’s rotation is at stake.