The good news for Minnesota Timberwolves fans is that when your team makes the playoffs, there’s less time to kill hypothesizing about the team’s potential summer moves. But that doesn’t stop us from doing so while we enjoy other fanbases ride the nightly rollercoaster of watching your team play playoff basketball every other night.
This week, we asked fans three questions:
1) What is the most important need for the Timberwolves to address this summer?
We offered four options:
- Backup point guard
- 3-point shooting
- Bench wing scoring
- Perimeter defense
Responses here were quite mixed, with 44% of the respondents selecting backup point guard and 34% opting for more shooting on the perimeter.
Given how well Jordan McLaughlin played down the stretch of last season into the playoffs in the first season of a three-year, $6.5 million contract, it would’ve been hard to imagine fans wanting an upgrade over him 12 months later. But that is the reality. The beloved member of the Wolves locker room overcame a nasty calf strain to return to the floor, but couldn’t regain the form that was pivotal in the 2022 series against the Memphis Grizzlies. The usually rock solid backup point guard looked unsure of himself in the team’s pair of Play-In games, and played just 14 total minutes across two games against the Denver Nuggets in Round 1; comparatively, J-Mac played at least 14 minutes in all but one game of the 2022 playoffs.
McLaughlin has one year and $2.32 million left on his deal. Currently, it is non-guaranteed, and has a full guarantee trigger on June 30, so the team will need to make a decision before then. The front office is surely hoping that 2022 first-round draft pick Wendell Moore Jr. — who thrived in a complementary role as a secondary ball-handler alongside several stars at Duke — will be able to fill those minutes, should the team move on from McLaughlin.
Free agent options in an affordable price range could include
D’Angelo Russell (UFA), Patrick Beverley (UFA), San Antonio Spurs PG Tre Jones (RFA), Reggie Jackson (UFA) and Cory Joseph (UFA).
My vote would’ve gone with 3-point shooting. Being able to run one or multiple sharpshooters off pin-downs and dribble hand-offs is a staple of both the Nuggets’ and Miami Heat’s offenses, and despite shooting 39.2% from deep post-All-Star this season (second in NBA), the Timberwolves never replaced the high-volume shooting Malik Beasley provided in the league’s best post-All-Star offense in 2022.
Heat wing Max Strus will be a free agent and is someone who could be in play for the full mid-level exception, but only if the Wolves moved on from Naz Reid. Ironically, Beasley (who has a $15 million team option for next season) could be a terrific value find on the free agent market for the bi-annual exception (roughly $4.1 million) or lower, considering he couldn’t crack the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff rotation. Former Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns shooter Damion Lee would also fit as a bargain option.
2) Should the Timberwolves re-sign Naz Reid if the contract is in between $12-15 million per year?
There is no way 85% of respondents would’ve wanted Reid back at this number if we asked this poll question during the All-Star break. That is a testament to how strongly Reid closed down the stretch of the season, especially when paired on the floor with Karl-Anthony Towns, who was insistent upon feeding Reid when the offensive weapon had a mismatch anywhere on the floor.
I also voted yes. Big Jelly was ridiculously productive and peaking just before he suffered a season-ending wrist fracture trying to dunk on Suns big Bismack Biyombo. You could make a serious argument that he was the best overall bench player in the league after the All-Star break, but we’ll settle for a fact: was the best per 36 scoring reserve with a consistent role.
Naz Reid didn't get enough credit for averaging 27.6 points per 36 (best in the NBA among bench players) on 55.8/39.2/71.8 shooting splits in his 14 games after the All-Star break.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) May 16, 2023
Incredibly talented player who should be signed long-term at all costspic.twitter.com/5jZIz7Fj2T
Reid started 11 games this season when Rudy Gobert missed time and made them count: he averaged 16.5 points on 50.0/33.3/60.6 shooting splits, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks across 26.1 minutes per contest, including four outings with at least 24 points and nine rebounds.
The best way I can describe Naz Reid is simply that he’s a weapon. Naz fully figured out how to inflict damage in Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch’s mostly unscripted offensive system because he makes quick decisions and does everything full speed. More importantly, Reid is exactly the type of personality and player Anthony Edwards wants around him. Naz plays his ass off, plays through any type of pain or discomfort unless it is absolutely necessary he sits, and never backs down from anyone. Surrounding Edwards with those types of players is critical, and when you add in Reid’s production, the answer is simple: bring him back.
2) Should the Timberwolves re-sign Nickeil Alexander-Walker if the contract is in between $6-8 million per year?
There is no question that outside of Edwards, no Timberwolves player raised his stock more in the postseason than Nickeil Alexander-Walker. NAW got off to an incredible start when he was tasked with shutting down his cousin, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and help secure the Wolves a second consecutive playoff berth. Not only did he hold his own, but he dominated the matchup and completely erased the Oklahoma City Thunder star.
NBA matchup stats are in from last night.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) April 16, 2023
Nickeil Alexander-Walker held SGA to only six points on 2/14 shooting (14.3%), just two assists, and did not get whistled for a shooting foul on one of the league's most prolific scorers.
Elite defensive performance in a big spot.
Things didn’t get any easier for the Toronto, Ontario native once the playoffs rolled around. Finch assigned him to guard another fellow Canadian in Jamal Murray. The Nuggets star got the better of the matchup over the course of the series, but Alexander-Walker made it as tough as he could for Murray. The wiry and aggressive NAW held Murray to 32 points on 13/36 (36.1%) shooting and was not whistled for a shooting foul on Murray over the entire five-game series.
NAW held Jamal Murray to two points on 1/8 FG, four assists and two TOs last night.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) April 24, 2023
KAT held Murray to 1/6 FG on the shots he contested.
Excellent work from a more aggressive Wolves defense, which held DEN to 9/26 (35%) on shots in 4-14 feet range (DEN shot 16/19 there in G3).
Alexander-Waker also shot 10/25 (40%) from 3 in the series and provided some much-needed complementary scoring in Games 3, 4 and 5, over which he averaged 10 points per game on 47.8/43.8/100 shooting splits. Small sample of course, but still an important part of the Wolves turnaround in the series nonetheless.
And while Alexander-Walker’s postseason performance understandably garners the most praise, he also played very well immediately after arriving in Minnesota at the trade deadline. He cooled off in between, but the majority of his season with the Wolves was an excellent sales pitch for a long-term deal with the team.
The 24-year-old expressed his appreciation for the Timberwolves organization several times in the months since arriving in the D’Angelo Russell/Mike Conley trade, and both Finch and President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly sung his praises during exit interviews after the team’s season-ending Game 5 loss in Denver.
If the Timberwolves front office is unable to agree with Alexander-Walker’s side on a contract extension prior to the start of free agency, the team will surely offer him his $7.1 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent. This means Alexander-Walker will be able to sign an offer sheet with any team in the NBA, but the Wolves will be able to match any contract he signs and keep him in Minnesota to form a dangerous perimeter defensive trio with Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.