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2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves Season Review: Jordan McLaughlin

After a cold start to the 2021-22 season, Jordan McLaughlin turned it around and figures to be a key bench piece going forward.

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan McLaughlin came into the season with his first full time NBA contract having spent his first two years with the team on a two-way deal. There was a ton of promise surrounding the guard and he didn’t live up to it to start the season.

McLaughlin simply didn’t have it to start the season. His passes weren’t on point, his shot wasn’t falling, and he was borderline unplayable. In a matter of nine games, he was out of the rotation. After that it was a mixture of DNP’s, garbage time minutes, and the occasional injury replacement minutes. Those injury replacement and garbage time minutes would even eventually go away with Leandro Bolmaro and Jaylen Nowell leapfrogging him in the rotation. Bolmaro, unfortunately, looked like a deer in the headlights and you still had a good case for playing him over early season McLaughlin.

It was a truly perplexing start of the season for the third year guard. I have spent a fair amount of time researching what could’ve happened and the only logical explanation I found was that Jordan McLaughlin got his basketball talents zapped by the Space Jam monsters. This was a big loss for the team too because the offense really needed someone to set the table and give them a steady hand.

Then February hit and like any good movie, our hero got his powers back and simply forgot what a turnover was. McLaughlin was finally the floor general that the team desperately needed off the bench. He tallied a total of 52 assists and only three turnovers for the month, something that assist to turnover legend and former Wolf, Tyus Jones dreams of.

From that point on McLaughlin and fellow backcourt member Jaylen Nowell made head coach Chris Finch’s job very tough. Both players provided a big need for the team, McLaughlin’s being a floor general generating easy buckets on the offense for everyone else, and Nowell’s being a bucket getter who can help fix a stale offense all on his own. Having to find the balance and decide which player is the one to roll with was a tough job. This culminated in Minnesota going heavy into multi-guard lineups and letting both Nowell and McLaughlin play a healthy amount of bench minutes when Jaden McDaniels suffered an injury that kept him out for most of the last 12 games of the season.

Come playoff time, Chris Finch had to make a tough decision and McLaughlin got the rotational nod over Nowell. He played in five of the six games (with a weird exception for one game that both him and Nowell didn’t play even though the offense sorely needed either or both of them). He played well, didn’t look out of place, and even got the nod to close over D’Angelo Russell in the season ending Game 6 loss.

So what exactly did McLaughlin do well and/or bad this season?

The Positives:

More often than not the undersized point guard isn’t good on defense, in fact, typically due to the size handicap they’re usually pretty bad. This wasn’t the case for McLaughlin, who despite D’Angelo Russell’s steps forward, has a very good case for being the second best rotation guard on the defensive side for the Wolves (with Patrick Beverley being the best). He didn’t have the link or the physical tools to play the way that say Jarred Vanderbilt played defense, but he was able to play hard, stay in front of players, and play smart.

Another positive of McLaughlin’s season is that he continued to do his best job of filling the massive Tyus Jones sized void left in our hearts. Sure, he got Space Jammed to start the season, but once he put it together, he started becoming the top tier facilitating backup point guard that the team needed. The pinnacle of this was this brilliant play that almost sent game five into overtime:

Like Tyus, he was making everyone better too. Almost every player shot better with him on the court due to his ability find players and create high level looks.

The Negatives:

McLaughlin is admittedly an all around solid player that plays safe and rarely makes mistakes. The biggest negatives in his game are the uncontrollable things like his size. That being said, aside from practically not being an NBA caliber player for the beginning of the season, there was one major negative. He has shot worse from three every season and this one was a noticeable downgrade.

42.5% of his field goal attempts came from behind the arc which was 0.2% lower than his rookie season (his highest rate). Unlike his rookie year when he converted 38.2% of those shots, McLaughlin only made 31.8% of his threes this season. This hurt a team where seemingly every player with the exception of Karl-Anthony Towns and Patrick Beverley went through major cold spells from three point land. The redeeming factor here is J-Mac at least made 51.6% of his corner threes.

Best Game:

Game four against the Memphis Grizzlies. McLaughlin scored a playoff career high of 16 points, made a career high four three pointers, and played a big role in Minnesota picking up their second win of the series.

Projected Role Moving Forward:

This is a pretty fun thought exercise. As constructed, he’ll remain fighting with Jaylen Nowell for the backup guard role playing 10-15 minutes a game. However, if there is a Malik Beasley or D’Angelo Russell trade, there’s a good chance that one or both of their roles expand. It is worth noting that his 2023-24 salary is not guaranteed up until 6/30/2023 and after that his contract expires in the 2024 offseason.

Summer School Assignments:

Call up Lonzo Ball, get the number of the shooting coach he worked with, and work on his shooting. Also, continue to stay sharp. Having another season where he starts ice cold could damage the potential of having any long-term role with the team.