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Minnesota Timberwolves’ Bench Second Quarter Check-In

Could the Timberwolves bench unit keep pace with the improved effort from the starters?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ bench has seen ten different players get time over the last 10 games. You have your trusty stalwarts with Jaylen Nowell, Austin Rivers, and Naz Reid. Then, there are the injury-plagued, would-be rotation players with Taurean Prince (hasn’t played a game yet this stretch) and Jordan McLaughlin. And finally, you have your “throw ‘em in there and see if it works” guys in Wendell Moore Jr., Bryn Forbes, Nathan Knight, Luka Garza, Josh Minott and newly-signed Matt Ryan.

For the sake of fairness in grades without incredibly small sample sizes, I’ll be limiting the grades for guys in the last group to those who have either played in every game (Wendell Moore Jr.) or guys who have averaged 10+ minutes in their time on the floor (Bryn Forbes, Nathan Knight). Sorry Garza and Minott stans, your time will come!

Check out the starters’ grades from Tuesday for more, otherwise here are the essential three reminders about the grades below:

1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.

2. Roles on the team can change as the roster and playing time changes—I may alter or add statistical categories as we see this team step into their identity.

3. These grades are for the second quarter of the season and will only involve stats accrued in the twenty games between November 30th and January 8th.

Jaylen Nowell Mid-Quarter Check-In: 88% (B+)

Nowell has been doing exactly what has been asked of him off the bench. He comes in, hunts the basket, and scores. The stats I’m looking at for him are all about this kind of offensive production, with the “boom” game category as a way to highlight his ability to be a game-changer. Two boom games through ten (and just missing Monday night by scoring 18), and he is well on his way to fitting his role on this team pretty perfectly.

I do want to give special notice to something I’ve seen watching games, that has a little bit of statistical data to back it up. To my eye, Nowell has looked better defensively. In the Dallas game, his rotations seemed crisp, he absorbed contact from bigger players backing him down, and wasn’t giving up the lane to would-be drivers. As it turns out, the eye-test was catching something here as Nowell is second on the team so far these ten games in defensive rating, behind only Rudy Gobert.

Obligatory small sample size remark, but perhaps there’s more than just a scorer developing here.

Naz Reid Mid-Quarter Check-In: 94% (A)

Here is a fun stat for Reid over this 10-game stretch: he leads the Timberwolves in PIE (Player Impact Estimate), an all around statistical formula that is meant to show the most impactful player in a game. He would be 23rd in the league when you sort by players getting at least 20 minutes per game, and check out the company in that category. That is a who’s who of NBA All-Stars, and Naz’s efforts the last 10 games would put him right up there with them. Special shout out to Gobert, who would be just one spot behind him.

Since Rudy has been out with a sprained ankle, Naz has stepped into the starting lineup, and his chemistry with his teammates was immediately noticeable. Whenever he gets consistent minutes, Reid finds a way to make a case for more.

Bottom line: Naz Reid has been one of, if not the best all-around players for the Timberwolves so far this quarter.

Austin Rivers Mid-Quarter Check-In: B (84%)

This version of Austin Rivers is what fans were hoping for. Even if the defensive numbers aren’t reflecting it, he’s a pain on defense, relentlessly chasing players around screens. Whether the team is on a three game win streak or losing streak, he interacts with the media offering important locker room insight. And as a fan, you can tell he just cares. He’s one of those guys I’m hoping can maintain his success so his off-the-court role can continue to mirror what he is doing on the court.

As a bonus stat for Rivers, his corner 3-point shooting numbers are even better than the percentage above as he’s hitting 52.2% on over 2 attempts per game. That would be second best in the league for this timeframe for players that are attempting at least 2 per game.

Bryn Forbes Mid-Quarter Check-In: 65% (D)

He continues to be a shooter without consistent minutes. The minutes have ticked up a bit more the last couple of games, but as you can see from his shooting numbers, things just aren’t falling into place yet.

Hard to find much of a path for him to keep minutes going forward, as other players have taken more advantage of their limited opportunities.

Wendell Moore Jr. Mid-Quarter Check-In: 67% (D)

Moore Jr.’s surprising start and great performance against the Memphis Grizzlies to start this stretch of games does feel a mile away, but I want to recognize it. He came in ready to play against one of the most dynamic scorers in the leagues, showing flashes of legit defensive chops in isolation situations.

His efforts since then have been a bit more pedestrian, showing some hesitation to take open jumpers and instead preferring to swing the ball quickly to other teammates even if he had a better shot. Feels like a player that just needs a bit more seasoning before he is ready for the big leagues.

Nathan Knight Mid-Quarter Check-In: 83% (B)

On December 18th, the Minnesota Timberwolves set a franchise record for single-game scoring when they put up 150 points on the Chicago Bulls. One of the biggest reasons why? 26 minutes of Nathan Knight who was a force on the offensive end. That game is the reason he’d lead the Timberwolves in per 36 scoring over these 10 games. He came in and was exactly what they needed when Reid had to exit with an injury.

Outside of that game, his minutes have been few and far between, so his numbers are going to skew high. That said, he did exactly what you want from a deeper bench player when called on, so we’ll let those points per 36 numbers lift his grade a bit.

Jordan McLaughlin Mid-Quarter Check-In: Incomplete

Not a lot to unpack for J-Mac as he’s recovering from his own calf strain. Even with a game in this stretch where he had *gasp* two turnovers, he’d still be leading the league in AST ratio and top 10 in AST/TO ratio. Here’s hoping we get some more healthy McLaughlin games soon!

Minnesota Timberwolves Second Quarter Grade: 83% (B)

Overall, during this 10-game stretch, Minnesota is 6-4 which would tie them for second place in the West. Memphis is the only team that has more wins, coming in just a game better at 7-3. Despite the ups and downs of injuries, it has been a good stretch of basketball for this team, hopefully building momentum to something more when everyone is back and healthy in January.

Final averages for this check-in:

Starters: 85.8% (B)

Bench: 80.1% (B-)

One last note on the bench: The thing that most stood out to me doing this grading exercise was how different fringe players have thrived in opportunities to step up. Moore Jr. vs Memphis. Knight vs Chicago. Rivers’ hot shooting this whole stretch. Reid playing at a near all-star level in his starts. The bench players are doing exactly what good benches do: stepping up when called upon. This bodes well for a team hoping to make some noise come playoff time.