Timberwolves coach Chris Finch cited internal development as the biggest growth potential for the organization at the end of the 2021-22 season. Of course, months later, Minnesota then made a seismic move, trading to get All-NBA center Rudy Gobert.
Fast forward a year, and while so much has changed for the Timberwolves, Finch’s general philosophy hasn’t changed. He seems to maintain the belief that while Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns are significant pieces of Minnesota’s puzzle, the ceiling rests on the shoulders of the team’s up-and-coming stars.
“I still think internal growth is huge. When you have players like Ant, Jaden and Naz, those guys are your young core,” Finch said. “We saw what Ant was able to do. We lamented the fact that Jaden and Naz missed the playoffs. So they missed a great growth opportunity, but I still believe that that’s the path that’s going to lead this franchise forward
“Obviously, the Rudys and the KATs, those guys are huge pieces that we need to coalesce what they’re doing, but I think our young players have got to still get better.”
It’s no surprise to hear Finch mention Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards in that light. Both were first-round draft picks in 2020, and both wings have proven themselves to be productive, high-end NBA starters. It’s Finch’s inclusion of Naz Reid in that grouping that is worthy of note.
It’s not that Reid’s results haven’t warranted it. The 23-year-old gets better and better every season. His per-36-minute numbers this season in an ever-changing role closely mirrored what Towns did in his age-22 season.
This all in a season that, at the outset, Finch admitted he didn’t expect Reid to play much. Minnesota had two bona-fide star centers in Gobert and Towns. Reid’s previous minutes at the power forward spot had been “hit and miss.”
“So we weren’t super comfortable that was going to be a natural home for him. We were also worried about wanting to be able to go smaller if need be,” Finch said. “So we just thought there would be a lot of opportunities to go different directions rather than Naz.”
But his play demanded opportunities. He was one of the Wolves’ few productive players during the team’s early-season struggles whenever minutes presented themselves. Sometimes those minutes came in garbage time. Sometimes they came via attempts at playing Reid at power forward. Sometimes court time came as a traditional center when another big got in foul trouble.
“He’s proven himself in a lot of different capacities this year,” Finch said. “He just succeeded in every role.”
That role finally cemented itself once Towns went down with a calf injury that caused the all-star to miss 52 games. And even once Towns returned, Reid’s ascension sustained. He proved himself capable of playing in any role in any lineup, and doing so without hindering his play or those around him. Finch’s offensive system actually made sense when Reid was on the floor, executing it with his decisiveness and skill.
“He was playing at a high, high level. He just proved he can play in all these different roles, which is valuable,” Finch said. “Then obviously just a perfect system fit. He’s a guy we see as a key part of being back here next year.”
Finch went as far as to call Reid a “high priority” for the organization this offseason. But his return is no slam dunk. Reid is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. And his play over the course of the season caught the eye of numerous other teams. It was not rare for opposing coaches to mention Reid prior to games as someone who could start for other teams across the NBA.
So while Minnesota has the Bird rights to go over the salary cap to re-sign Reid, the bigger challenge may be to match Reid’s role. He will not start with the Timberwolves as currently constructed. And while Finch said Reid’s role was established with his minute load even with Gobert and Towns on the floor prior to the broken wrist that ended Reid’s season, the center was only averaging about 20 minutes in those games.
Bigger opportunities will likely come elsewhere. That means Minnesota may have to offer more money than other suitors to compensate for a lack of available minutes. That’s how Memphis was able to retain Tyus Jones in a backup point guard role last offseason, when other teams with greater roles but smaller spending opportunities were interested in the former Apple Valley High School star.
“I think it’s really neat that Naz has reached this point, right? From going undrafted to a coveted guy, and is coveted because of his strong play and the work he’s put in in the gym. The guy is always here,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “I think we’re going to be an organization that’s going to reward guys that do right by the organization. He came here, he got himself in better shape, he’s gotten better each and every year, and we’re fingers crossed that he’s going to be here for a long, long time. He loves the coaching staff, he loves the city.
“Sometimes I think you have to be cognizant of how important familiarity is, both with player and staff. We’ve been working pretty hard to try to figure out something long term for Naz. Hopeful that thing gets done sooner rather than later.”
Because Reid is the type of young player who does fit alongside the long-term timeline of players like Edwards and McDaniels, makes Minnesota’s big-ball approach make more sense in the present and, with his overall year-over-year growth, raises the Timberwolves’ ceiling now and later.
“I feel offensively, like, you don’t see bigs like him any more. The way he can dribble, shoot, he can pretty much do everything. Defensively, he’s still super good, like with his hands and protecting the rim,” McDaniels said. “It would be great to play with Naz. But business is business, whatever happens with his signing, I hope for the best for him. I just hope he’s still in our jersey.”