The Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped up their 2023 preseason on Friday night with a 114-105 win over the Chicago Bulls to cap off an undefeated exhibition season, beating the Dallas Mavericks twice, the New York Knicks, Maccabi Ra’anana, and the Bulls. Overall, there were a lot of positives to take away. Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns look ready to be offensive leaders; the bench is deep with diverse talent at all five positions; and everyone up and down the roster seems ready to jump out of the gates strong and avoid a repeat of last season.
Last summer, fans were both excited and nervous to see how Rudy Gobert would fit with his new team. Minnesota’s front office made a risky bet that vaulted the team into win-now mode. A move of that caliber seemed necessary as the roster reached its full potential. However, fast forward to this summer, President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and his staff had a different approach. They kept key pieces around and brought in low-risk, high-reward players. More than anything, the team needs health and continuity heading into the 2023-24 NBA season. With that being said, what intrigues me the most as we sit less than a week out from the season opener still has something to do with Gobert and KAT. But this time, Naz Reid and his role are on my mind.
When news broke that the Stifle Tower would be erected on First Avenue, my initial thought was, “Man, does this mean Naz is on his way out?” Reid’s role last season was all over the place. Early in the year, there were games in which he was barely a part of the rotation, and because he was going to be hit the unrestricted free-agent market the following summer, it seemed that his time with the Wolves was coming to an end. However, when Towns went down with a calf injury in mid-November, Reid was given an opportunity that he took and ran with. The 6-foot-10 big man showed how crucial he was to winning and that he could thrive in any given role.
This ultimately led to him inking a three-year extension with the Wolves.
At this year’s media day, Britt Robson of MinnPost asked Reid about how his role will change depending on whether he is sharing the floor with Gobert or KAT.
“Something that’s very unique about my game is I can play besides either one, if not at the same time. Just being able to play and piggyback off of how their playing. With KAT, he is able to play all over the floor; I’ll just do the opposite. And with Rudy, playing outside of the paint, outside of his area. Sometimes, I might get into his area, or I might beat him down the court with my ability to play all over the floor. I can space the floor, and things of that nature.”
During the 52 games Towns missed last season, Reid was asked to be the backup center as Kyle Anderson stepped up into the starting lineup. Gobert and Reid only shared the front court for 427 possessions, posting a net rating of -14.9, ranking in the third percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. When he did play beside Gobert, Big Jelly’s shot selection came primarily from outside, since he was used as more of a traditional power forward.
During a training camp media scrum, The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski mentioned to Reid that Finch believed he was too stationary in his early days of playing the 4 and went on to ask where he’s learned how to assert himself in that position.
“I’d say the difference in that was more so me not wanting to mess up. I would just kind of insert myself in one spot. You can’t take the blame for anything when you are in one spot. I just tried to do the right things at all times. Now, I’m just getting more comfortable and more familiar in my situation. Understanding the role I’m playing at the 4 or at the 5, both offensively and defensively. Just the comfort level, and understanding that moving around and being all over the floor is something that we need.”
It was difficult for Reid to find his groove early last season with his new-look team. However, his preseason showing gave us an excellent indication of his role once the regular season kicks off on Wednesday and how his minutes will shake out.
Naz played in four out of the five preseason games this year. During that stretch, he averaged 16.5 points and 4.8 rebounds on 60% from the floor and 50% from deep. When listening to the quotes above, I was under the original impression that Reid would be doing more work in the painted area, especially when he played alongside KAT. However, despite Head Coach Chris Finch stating that Reid was too stationary as a power forward last season, Naz’s offensive attack revolves around the 3-point line.
MSG's announcer just said, "Naz Reid, who knew?" as Naz attempted a wide-open triple.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) October 15, 2023
Well, he shot almost 35% from three last season on 3.2 attempts.
Reid followed that up with back-to-back threes. Nothin' but nylon.
The Timberwolves’ third preseason game took place at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. The starters/regular rotation played until the fourth quarter, so that game was our most accurate look at regular-season hoops. Reid stole the show at the Garden; he finished with 22 points on 8-of-12 from the floor in just 19 minutes off the bench, highlighted by five makes on eight fires from beyond the arc.
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The play above is a great representation of where Reid’s offense will primarily come from when playing alongside Gobert — a good amount of off-ball shooting from deep.
Shake Milton runs a pick-and-roll with Gobert, and Naz is left alone on the left-side wing. Josh Hart is forced to come over and side-hedge Milton. The ball then gets dumped off to Reid, and Hart doesn’t have enough time to get back and successfully contest, thanks to Reid’s super quick jumper.
Above is a Jelly 3-ball that came with Towns on the floor. Even though KAT can fill it up from deep better than any other big man in the league, I expect him to put in more work from within the painted area while Reid operates next to him. It’s easy to forget how good Towns is with his back to the basket, especially after the Gobert trade. However, if you can recall back a few seasons, teams viewed him as an equal threat, maybe even more so, in the paint than from beyond the three-point line. KAT getting triple-teamed down low was pretty typical.
And lastly, above are a couple of clips where Reid is not sharing the floor with either Towns or Gobert. The minutes without Naz being accompanied by one part of the Northern Heights will be scarce this season. However, when he is the lone big man out there, he’ll have more of a free-range offensively and can play both inside and out.
These are just a few highlights from one preseason game, and things can be totally different during the regular season, but I see them as a prelude to what we can expect regarding play calls and offensive schemes involving Naz.
Naz Reid must adapt and be flexible to have a consistent role this year. Whether that means spacing the floor next to Gobert and KAT or attacking the rim when he is the lone center on the floor. He proved it last year; Reid is a winning player and needs to be a prominent fixture of the rotation. The minutes will come for him; that’s not in question. What Naz will do with those minutes is. Regardless of who he shares the front court with, Big Jelly understands what he needs to get done and when he needs to do it.