The addition of Rudy Gobert in the offseason forced the Minnesota Timberwolves fanbase to start thinking more critically about roster construction in 2023: not only was the importance of perimeter scoring and spacing at the forefront of our minds, but the depth at the center position behind him and Karl-Anthony Towns became a point of tension.
How crucial was it to actually keep a third center as talented as Naz Reid on the roster? Certainly this season it’s become a 6-foot-10 blessing in the form of spin move hook shots and poster dunks on the NBA’s most respected rim protectors.
Beyond Reid, the chatter transitioned to Nate Knight, a ball of energy that isn’t a floor spacer and gets bullied by bigger and more skilled centers, but nevertheless has had his moments sifting through the rotation wreckage left by Towns and Gobert’s absences.
Then the enigma: Luka Garza, of Iowa Hawkeye and Iowa Wolf duality. His time north of Des Moines has been productive relative to expectations; he’s a microwave of scoring, netting 91 points in 126 total minutes with the big club over 15 games, including efficient outings against the Bucks, Blazers and Nuggets in recent days. His defense is nothing to write home about, on the slower and plodding side of footwork, but his outside shooting and old-man interior game have been welcome to a team that hasn’t found a consistent low-post scoring option all season.
All three of these bigs have the vibes to back up their minutes, too. Garza is just grateful to be here, and the individual success is gravy.
Two words to best describe Naz Reid: Naz Reid.
Every time I've seen Jaden McDaniels exit the locker room, he looks at Naz Reid with a straight face, says, "Naz Reid," then walks away.— Jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) January 20, 2023
Asked Naz Reid if that's a constant: "Every single time." Even on the court.
And Knight leads the Wolves bench mob when he’s not asked to come in and dunk on people.
Ok, Nathan Knight. Ok. pic.twitter.com/tt1yqFKbBh— Timberwolves Brasil (@twolves_brasil) January 20, 2023
I know that as fans of the team we might have a skewed view of how good these guys are. It’s reminiscent of the COVID outbreak across the league last season in late December when Greg Monroe was summoned to save the squad against the Boston Celtics. In the end, none of Reid, Knight or Garza will be playing 20-30 minutes a game if Gobert and Towns are healthy. The offseason will bring all of this to a head, and the decisions made will be interesting to follow. The outcome: I’m not sure there’s a negative one.
Reid will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he’s thoroughly outplaying his current $1.9 million salary. I can name a ton of teams that could use Naz as a backup scoring big — kind of like Al Jefferson with functional knees and a nasty in-and-out dribble. The Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers all come to mind. It’s pretty clear he could be the sweetener in a D’Angelo Russell trade over the next couple of weeks.
If the Wolves don’t want to add a significant bump to their big man bill and can get something valuable for him, finding an Eastern Conference fit (say, the Miami Heat?) makes sense. I love Naz, and I think he’s growing on his doubters in the last couple of months, but his value has never been higher across the NBA than it is right now.
His expendability hinges fully on two things: the long-term health of Towns and Gobert (read: scary) and the long-term viability of Knight and Garza.
Knight’s ceiling feels like a 12th man at this point, not a consistent rotational third big. He’s athletic but can’t stay with skilled bigs and fouls a ton. The Wolves have a 124 defensive rating with Knight on the floor, per PBP Stats. His explosiveness is rejuvenating in spurts and he’s a great offensive rebounder.
To me, the more interesting case is Luka Garza. He’s infinitely more skilled and secure with the basketball in his hands and has reliable three-point range. You can throw him the ball on the block and he’ll get a quality look at the rim with touch. He doesn’t have the speed or agility of Reid, but his craftiness from the perimeter and ability to shape to open spots on the floor has been valuable.
Now, it’s important to note he’s a turnstile defensively. There’s no debate there — his game-by-game defensive ratings look like Aaron Rodgers’ quarterback ratings in 2011. But as a backup, you hopefully don’t have to rely on him as an anchor often, and he would likely run against an opponent’s second unit. Color me intrigued.
The bottom line is the Timberwolves have decisions to make on who stays and who goes. Will the first domino drop by the trade deadline? Or is President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly cooking up another elaborate summer vacation itinerary for the front office folks? Whichever way it goes, remember one thing: Naz Reid.