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The ‘Absolute Game-Changer’: Jordan McLaughlin Just Drives Winning

The Wolves’ backup point guard has flexed his knack for consistency and pace in his fourth year.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Before the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Nov. 21 matchup with the Miami Heat, Jordan McLaughlin had made three 3-pointers on the season. He made four against the Jimmy Butler-less Heat (a career-high).

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The shooting hasn’t been there for the USC alum through his first four seasons, but he does just about everything else at an above average rate. A fan favorite for a while now, McLaughlin dazzles with his fast-faced play and pesky defense.

There’s been no shortage of that in 2022-23, as fans have littered Twitter timelines with suggestions to insert him into the starting lineup at the expense of D’Angelo Russell.

Russell’s methodical, strategic orchestration has been an up-and-down match with this year’s group, leading to frequent change-of-pace minutes for McLaughlin. Going stride for stride with Chris Finch’s coaching style, the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Timberwolves fans are used to it by now, but it’s still striking that McLaughlin has such strong net rating numbers despite averaging 3.9 points per game. On top of that, he’s shooting 24% from 3-point range. That means he doesn’t enter the game, hit a few threes, and then check out (therefore spiking plus/minus numbers). He assists, defends, steals, etc. his way to positive minutes.

He ranks seventh in the NBA in net rating ( >15 minutes per game) this season. Three of the six guys ahead of him shooter higher than 43% from beyond the arc, while Kawhi Leonard and Jaren Jackson Jr. are ahead of him but have only played five and four games, respectively.

I mention all of this not to make a claim for starting point guard status for McLaughlin, but to say this is truly incredible for someone that shot 12.5% from 3-point land before Monday’s game against Miami.

Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch’s “play free and play fast” philosophy is tailor-made for McLaughlin, who gets the ball moving as soon as he hits the court.

“We all know, this is J-Mac. J-Mac plays winning basketball all the time. He makes a team really hum,” Finch said after the win against Miami.

“When he gets the ball moving and gets the ball back in the flow, it looked like the way he finished last season, with the confidence he had in his stroke. An absolute game-changer,”

It seems that McLaughlin has “synergy” with nearly everyone on this roster, from back-court partner Russell to reserve big Naz Reid. It’s a testament to how easy it is to play with J-Mac, as he consistently creates opportunities for his teammates.

As for Reid and Jaylen Nowell, they share a bond with McLaughlin that was created in Iowa playing for the Timberwolves’ G-League affiliate.

With Russell it’s a bit of yin and yang, with McLaughlin providing pace and movement and Russell with methodical, surgical play. That chemistry has led to one of my favorite plays in basketball, the D-Lo/J-Mac give and go:

Notice how McLaughlin doesn’t even look for the ball until it’s already in the air, giving Cameron Payne zero chance of realizing what’s happening before it’s too late.

(For those that chuckled at that play like I did, here’s J-Mac and D-Lo running the same play multiple times last season):

In a year that Minnesota’s offense has sputtered, McLaughlin has been as important as anyone, despite his backup role. He acts somewhat as a 6-foot (maybe 5-foot-11) “glue guy,” someone who can enter that game and simply get things under control. Give effort on defense, make the extra pass on offense, get out and run, etc.

Kyle Anderson and Jaden McDaniels have similar roles/strengths, but they’re both 6-foot-9. To be doing what McLaughlin is doing at his height is super unique, and so impressive. He only makes $2.2 million this season (and a non-guaranteed $2.3 million next season), a number that does not reflect his true value. On a team with three players that each earn north of $30 million, having players with impacts like McLaughlin’s is rare. To avoid future cap hell (even hotter cap hell), Minnesota would love to make a deep playoff run with McLaughlin on his current deal, which can only be considered a steal.