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Minnesota Timberwolves Bench: Second Semester Grades

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Taurean Prince and Luka Garza stand out as the final bench grades for the second semester are tabulated.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

“I want you to be grateful that you’re going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t nobody in this room alone.” - Ted Lasso

The Minnesota Timberwolves accomplished something pretty remarkable on Tuesday night. They went into a postseason game with low expectations as an undermanned underdog and found a way to raise those expectations with an inspiring performance for forty-two minutes… then they delivered a gut punch to their fans with an offensive disappearing act that would make Houdini blush. For a great breakdown of what took place on the court that game, check out Aidan Berg’s game recap.

On Tuesday night, I was watching the game with at least one hundred other Timberwolves fans at Falling Knife Brewery. Forty-two minutes of “Minnesota Mike!” screams and “Let’s Go Wolves!” chants eventually began to dissolve over the final stretch of the fourth quarter as that inevitable feeling snuck in. Every time the Wolves made a defensive stop, everyone instantly got re-engaged, because surely, the next offensive possession would be different…

*Narrator Voice* It wasn’t.

There was an odd comfort in the quiet walk of shame back to our cars. The silence was occasionally broken by a frustrated murmur of “If Rudy or Jaden had played”, or “If only Ant had hit one shot”, but otherwise, that walk was as familiar as a Minnesota street riddled with potholes in spring.

This is where the quote from Ted Lasso comes in. Being a Timberwolves fan means you are going to be sad often, but you are never alone. We’ll rant, post memes, bemoan the officials, demand state-mandated therapy… but we’ll bounce back. Come Friday we’ll be ready to cheer for this team again, because let’s be honest, none of us want to say goodbye to this gut-punch inducing team.

And if Friday night does deliver the hit that ends our season, at least we will have each other.

Onto the grades.

Taurean Prince Second Semester Grade: 83% (B)

3rd Quarter Grade: 86% (B)
4th Quarter Grade: 79% (C+)

Taurean Prince continues to be a reliable veteran presence off the bench. While he hasn’t shot at the same level of his first half of the season, he remains a threat to space the floor and is still a capable defender. Prince continues to be the picture of a solid veteran presence that comes off the bench and does exactly what is asked of them.

Naz Reid Second Semester Grade: 79% (C+)

3rd Quarter Grade: 65% (D)
4th Quarter Grade: 86% (B)

Naz Reid was playing his best basketball of the season over the final weeks before his wrist injury. He settled into the role of microwave scorer off the bench and found ways to be effective while sharing the floor with both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. It was a tantalizing glimpse of what he could mean for this team in the future, but unfortunately, his future with this franchise is unknown.

How much money can the team realistically offer? What is his value around the league? Reid may end up being one of the first dominoes that falls this off-season to help give us a sense of team direction.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker Second Semester Grade: 92% (A-)

3rd Quarter Grade: 80% (B-)
4th Quarter Grade: 94% (A)

Like Mike Conley, Alexander-Walker’s semester grade is weighted heavily towards the last quarter of the season as that is where most of his games were played. He was the best player off the bench in Tuesday night’s game against the Lakers, even providing an offensive spark to go with his usual defensive acumen.

With Jaden McDaniels out, NAW is going to need to replicate some of the perimeter defense off the bench Friday (and hopefully beyond). Any offense that he brings at this point is going to be a bonus, but the team is going to need his help in slowing down his cousin, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He may have been initially thought of as a trade “throw in”, but he has become a key part of this roster.

Jordan McLaughlin Second Semester Grade: 84% (B)

3rd Quarter Grade: 75% (C)
4th Quarter Grade: 89% (B+)

This is probably the grade that most betrays my eye test, and it’s especially hard not to want to knock the score down a little bit after Tuesday’s rough performance. However, these grades are based on roles, and McLaughlin is asked to come in, move the ball effectively, and play solid enough defense to warrant his time on the court. He is doing that - notably, he’s first in the league in AST ratio, a stat that has to do with total ball touches and how often they translate to assists.

Despite a calf injury that hampered the second half of his season, McLaughlin has still been effective on the court, even if he hasn’t quite lived up to the upside he flashed in last year’s postseason.

Jaylen Nowell Second Semester Grade: 68% (D+)

3rd Quarter Grade: 68% (D+)
4th Quarter Grade: INC

It really is hard to give Nowell a fair grade for the second half of the season. His statistical categories are based on a role that he could never quite find this half of the season due to a cold shooting slump and missing time with a knee injury.

He still has a chance this Friday to prove his worth to the team with a vintage Nowell performance off the bench, but a healthy knee and requisite minutes are key.

Austin Rivers Second Semester Grade: 66% (D)

3rd Quarter Grade: 70% (C-)
4th Quarter Grade: 60% (D-)

The trade for Conley and Alexander-Walker ended up hurting Rivers’ chance to play meaningful minutes. In Conley, the Timberwolves found a veteran locker room presence and very capable (if not very good) defensive screen navigator.NAW has quickly stepped into the role of bench perimeter defender as well, occupying both roles that Rivers spent the first half of the year targeting.

Rivers’ playing time really wasn’t enough to offer a fair grade, but come the end of the season article, he’ll be getting some love for the role that he played in keeping the team afloat in the immediate aftermath of Towns’ injury. As a veteran minimum player, Rivers expanded his initial role, even if he wasn’t able to hang onto it the second half of the year.

Nathan Knight Second Semester Grade: 69% (D+)

3rd Quarter Grade: 78% (C+)
4th Quarter Grade: 64% (D)

Knight being asked to come in and attempt to play meaningful minutes in games eighty-two and eighty-three of the season was a tough ask, but his biggest shortcoming of defending without fouling flared up in both games. When things are clicking, he offers energy, athleticism and aggressiveness to the rim that can turn the tides of games.

On Tuesday, we saw the downside to the inexperience as Anthony Davis took advantage of his presence on the court, leading to some quick fouls and a benching. It was a tall task to ask of the third year NBA player, and he couldn’t quite answer the call.

Luka Garza Second Semester Grade: 85% (B)

3rd Quarter Grade: 85% (B)
4th Quarter Grade: 70% (C-)

The majority of Garza’s minutes came in the third quarter of the season, and just like Nate Knight, he often brought a whirlwind of energy with him, sometimes effective, sometimes detrimental.

There is a big shout-out that he deserves - by the end of the season, he finished the season as the Timberwolves best player in offensive estimated plus/minus. While he didn’t play a ton of minutes this season, he also wasn’t only a garbage time sub. There is some substance to those numbers.

If he can learn to be an effective defender without fouling, the G-League MVP has a bright future ahead of him.

Minnesota Timberwolves Second Semester Grade: 70% (C-)

3rd Quarter Grade: 83% (B)
4th Quarter Grade: 64% (D)

In the starter’s article, I covered the disappointing nature of the 2022-2023 Timberwolves as a straight-to-DVD kind of team. The final second semester averages look like this:

Second Semester Starter Average: 85% (B)

Second Semester Bench Average: 78% (C+)

Once again, the pieces on this roster end up greater than the sum of their parts, just like a movie with a great cast that can’t quite elevate a mediocre script. Barring an unexpected postseason run, the question that will linger into the offseason is this:

Who is in charge of the script?



The players themselves?

Some power beyond everyone that has cursed Minnesota sports to linger in mediocrity?

Whatever it may be, let us all hope that we don’t have to start talking about it on Friday night. Hopefully, for not the last time this season…

Let’s go Wolves.