It didn’t feel like a coincidence that when Naz Reid’s season-ending wrist injury occurred, much of the oxygen and good vibes being puffed into the Minnesota Timberwolves in late March were deflated. Perhaps even more fittingly, he got injured trying to absolutely destroy a defender at the rim.
The Wolves had just bookmarked a four-game winning streak against playoff teams, capping it off with back-to-back clutch wins over Golden State and Sacramento on the road. Reid had been a key cog in that stretch, microwaving instant offense for the Wolves during a stretch where the return of Karl-Anthony Towns hadn’t completely settled into the team’s fabric. Naz dropped 19.8 points per game in those four wins playing just 21.2 minutes, and was shooting 43.8% from downtown on four attempts.
Then that fateful night in Phoenix derailed his run when he landed hard on his left wrist in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Reid stayed on the floor for another couple minutes but didn’t play another tick in 2023.
The Wolves lost that Phoenix game, followed by a lackluster effort against a hot Lakers team and the most inexcusable venture of the season against a depleted Portland Trail Blazers team that had Kevin Knox, Jabari Walker and Skylar Mays playing significant minutes which resulted in a two-point loss.
The timing fits the game logs here. Reid — gifted an incredible opportunity to play more than just spot minutes because one of the two max contract big men on the roster was hurt for 50 games — proved his worth this season. Not only was he a fantastic backup center, changing pace and matchup viability immensely when he subbed in for Rudy Gobert, but he became the poster boy for Head Coach Chris Finch’s ball movement-oriented offense.
Reid is a guard in a 6-foot-10 body. His handle, quickness and shooting are more polished than most wing players his age. Watching him spread out defenses and then attack them on rotation has been an incredible progression as he’s slimmed up and skilled up over the last couple years.
The former LSU star set a ton of ball screens when swinging the ball from side to side this year. He made the most of the chances diving to the basket, shooting 74.3% on two-pointers as a roll man, according to Synergy. Seen in the first few clips above, his smooth footwork and ability to keep the ball high while finishing with touch stand out. He brings a unique speed and balance to that position — Gobert doesn’t have the hands nor the dribble to do this, and Towns is not quite as nimble and agile to avoid defenders like Naz does.
He also has a reliable 3-point stroke. Reid shot 36.6% on spot-up attempts from behind the arc in 2022-23, per Synergy, and had a great read on when to pop or when to dive to the rim. He also has the twitch to attack rotating closeouts and make a play for someone else as he collapses the defense. How many centers can do that at an efficient clip? One of the few is the best player on a team preparing for the NBA Finals right now.
Making the Easy Play
What makes Naz so fun and relaxing to watch is not only his smooth body movements or the effortless fluidity in his play; he gets to those places because he does the work early and often. It starts in transition.
We see a little bit of everything from Reid in the open floor. He’s always streaking downcourt on a turnover, wide and fast, ready for a good angle to catch and score on the run. It’s just like we all were taught in elementary school hoops — run as wide as the sideline and keep your eyes up. You’ll get rewarded with easy baskets!
When Towns went down with injury, Minnesota didn’t have much of a secondary break in a trailing forward to make something happen off the bounce. Reid’s emergence as the “Delay” man (trailing the play in the center of the court, receiving a swing pass to either move it the other way or make a move himself) was nearly unguardable. He puts Onyeka Okongwu in a blender with the patented in-and-out dribble (Naz was good for one or two of these per game) and finishes over the top of him in transition.
He also can initiate things for a few dribbles. In the final clip, he grabs the board, defers to Anthony Edwards at halfcourt, but doesn’t stop moving. His cut down the lane is wide open as all eyes load to Edwards.
Reid’s faithfulness to running the floor and finding low-maintenance avenues to getting involved offensively make him a perfect partner to Edwards long-term.
What Can Improve?
I thought Reid had a career season for Minnesota, one that will get him paid plenty of money. He didn’t have many weaknesses in his game this year, mostly because his position and lineup pairings were optimized, and he played selflessly within a system that fits his style.
If there was something to dedicate himself to, it would be his turnover rate in certain situations. Naz isn’t a post-up big man by trade, but it was one of the very few high-volume play types that he had below-average efficiency in (22.6% turnover rate on post-ups, per Synergy). Reid is much better facing up against a defender with space to attack, rather than banging bodies around on the block. The ball gets poked away from him too often, and he predetermines his post move which puts him in sticky situations against good anticipatory defenders. But overall, I wouldn’t expect him to post up much whether he’s playing small-ball 5 or as the 4 next to Towns or Gobert.
Combining that improvement with more three-point shooting accuracy and evolving his dribble-drive bag would make Reid an offensive stud with hardly any holes in his skillset. Defensively, there’s nothing to suggest he’s elite or will ever become that, but he doesn’t have to with the role he’s playing.
The Bottom Line
Reid will be in line for a nice raise in free agency this summer. Minnesota brass has explicitly said they want to bring him back as an important piece of the core.
Tim Connelly says he wants Naz Reid to be here a “long, long time.” Finch says he’s a high priority to keep for the long term.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) April 27, 2023
As usual, everything with this team points back to the duo of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns — Reid included. He’ll be highly sought after this offseason, probably in the price range of double-digit millions per year. Minnesota can sign him back with no penalty other than potentially hitting the luxury tax, but what are you going to do with three players all around the same position making a combined 100-plus million dollars? Even if Naz returns on a semi-bargain, you still have to find minutes for him that allow the production we saw in 2022-23. Chris Finch’s rotations will look mighty different next season even if the personnel he picks from is identical to last season. Can you justify paying $50 million over the next four years to a bench player that is behind two max-contract front-court guys?
When Anthony Edwards is your bottom line, I think you have to.
Naz has made enough of an impact on-court and off to at least sign him and make some kind of move later, whoever the losing party might be. The meteoric rise of the undrafted big man out of LSU has been really fun to watch. There’s a feeling gained from seeing players develop — and take it upon themselves to do it — that brings a sense of “we’re doing something correctly”. And as Wolves fans, all we’re ever in search of is something we’re doing correctly.