Last week, we looked at the starters mid-quarter update, headlined by Rudy Gobert getting out to an early lead as the roles-based MVP for the 2023-2024 Minnesota Timberwolves. Now it’s time to take a look at the supporting cast and see how they have fared through the first twelve games of the season.
Onto the grades.
A few brief reminders about the grading system:
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 will alter or add statistical categories throughout the season as needed.
Kyle Anderson: 94% (A)
Last year’s regular season roles-based MVP is back at it again for the bench unit. Just like Mike Conley’s presence with the starters, whenever Kyle Anderson is on the floor, everything tends to run just a little bit more smoothly and intelligently.
While he doesn’t bring the ball up, he handles the offense initiating duties as much as anyone on the second unit, dishing out 4.1 assists per game. Defensively, he’s one of the best team defenders, currently leading the team in defensive box score plus/minus, defensive rating, and defensive FG% for those that get regular minutes.
And how about the new wrinkle of Slow-Mo playing more at the small forward position? After game three, I started tracking these minutes and decided to officially categorize whichever grouping had the most minutes together.
Here’s what it looks like:
KAT/Naz/Slow-Mo: +3.2 in 8.2 minutes per game
Rudy/KAT/Slow-Mo: +2.2 in 5.6 minutes per game
Rudy/Naz/Slow-Mo: -2.0 in 4.7 minutes per game
Anderson’s effectiveness at the three just solidifies everything Timberwolves fans have learned about him over the past year; no matter what’s asked of him, he’s going to drive winning.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker: 85% (B)
After a slow offensive start, Alexander-Walker is settling perfectly into his role as the defensive energizer. He’s been one of the best defenders on the team, carrying 100% effort every single time he steps onto the court.
Beyond his normal roles of defending and outside shooting, NAW is the de facto backup point guard. He’s done well enough, sporting the 2.42 assist-to-turnover ratio, but the eye test is right to give a little bit of caution: Team’s are scouting the Timberwolves’ lack of a backup point guard and full-court presses are a common part of the game plan when Conley is off the floor.
NAW has done a good job thus far handling the pressure, but presses are part of the opponent’s game plans for a reason - it looks a little shaky. If Alexander-Walker is still handling these duties at the end of the season, it will certainly mean that he’s grown in this facet as a player and has carved out another way to be an essential piece on this roster.
Naz Reid: 81% (B-)
For Naz Reid, there is really only one split that you need to look at to understand his season thus far: Home vs road.
At home: 16 points on 61% shooting, (47.8% from 3), 5.2 rebounds, and 1.6 stocks per game
On the road: 10.1 points, 43.6% shooting, (39.3% from 3), 3.0 rebounds and 0.5 stocks per game
At home, Reid has been playing this season at an “A” level, and on the road, it’s more like a “C”. The Timberwolves have played more road games than home so the grade averages out to a “B-”. Now last I checked, half of a team’s games are played on the road, and the bench unit as a whole is in desperate need of a scoring punch that he can offer.
The fan-favorite big from LSU needs to find a way to pack up some of the energy he gets from an adoring Target Center crowd and bring it with him on road games.
Shake Milton: 62% (D-)
Milton is the only player through the Timberwolves hot start to finish below a “B” range grade. As the newest member of the team’s current rotation, it isn’t a big surprise that he’s having the hardest time figuring out his role on the bench unit.
The backup point guard experiment is probably over, so what exactly is his role? Microwave scorer? Effective outside shooter? Veteran team defender? It’s hard to identify which trait he’s currently bringing to the bench through twelve games as he’d be really struggling in all of those roles.
It’s a long season so there isn’t a need to sell all our Milton stock. But his performance through twelve games is enough to begin to ponder other options off the bench while he’s trying to find his game in Minnesota. So what are the other options? Let’s look.
The Next Man Up?
The sample sizes for the starters and bench players above are far too small to overreact to, and that’s all the more so for the rest of the roster. So while I have their grading categories updated below, none of them have gotten enough time to warrant a grade that would fairly reflect their play.
They are ordered in the spot that seems most likely to take over minutes for Milton if Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch decides the rotation needs a little “shake”-up.
- My guess is that with the Timberwolves’ need for a backup point guard, a healthy J-Mac would have already eaten into Milton’s minutes. The brief glimpses we got of McLaughlin were encouraging; showing that he may be back to his pre-calf-injury form.
Troy Brown Jr.
- As I write this Monday afternoon before the New York Knicks game, it wouldn’t surprise me if TBJ got a look tonight if the bench unit struggles at all in the first half. Even though the small-sample-size numbers don’t look good, he profiles as a 3&D wing and the bench unit could really use some outside shooting.
- Josh Minott’s elite skill is something this team can always use: energy. Getting him some bench minutes would double-down on your defensive identity, but it might also double-down on your bench’s shooting struggles.
- In the spirit of doubling-down, why not just quadruple down on your big man identity? You can test my “Slow-Mo always finds a way to drive winning” statement by sliding him to the SG spot and then go extra big with a Naz, KAT/Rudy, Garza lineup. I mean, it would at least be really fun to watch!
Leonard Miller, Wendell Moore Jr., Daishen Nix
- The rest of the Iowa guys here seem like a long shot - Leonard Miller maybe being the most intriguing of the three due to the upside he has been flashing, though it seems like the franchise may want him to continue to develop down in Iowa this season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves: 95% (A)
Through 12 games, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the best team in the West, with the third-ranked defense and the 14th-ranked offense. Target Center is rocking, they are getting love from the national media, and expectations are rising. The schedule is not getting any easier, but at 9-3, they did exactly what they needed to start the season in a brutal Western Conference.
I’ll be back in 10 games with the final first quarter grades, ready to unpack the next chapter of the Timberwolves season.