Souhan: Wolves' Reid doesn't start, but he's still found a way to lead

The Timberwolves might not win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award this season, but if it existed, they would easily win the Sixth Men of the Year trophy.

The Wolves have gone decades without having three standout players on their roster. This year, they have three standouts who often aren't even mentioned during pregame introductions.

Naz Reid has become a Minnesota folk hero as a dynamic scorer off the bench who has increased his defensive effectiveness this season for the top team in the Western Conference. Betting sites have him ranked the fifth most likely player to win the Sixth Man award.

In the Wolves' pecking order, though, Reid is merely one of three players who play like a top sixth man, along with Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kyle Anderson.

Anderson is the veteran forward who can play point guard. He is, along with point guard Mike Conley, the old head whose value extends beyond the boxscore.

Alexander-Walker gives the Wolves an on-the-ball wing defender who can mimic starting forward Jaden McDaniels' skills and who can shoot the three and run the court.

Reid, who signed a lucrative contract this summer, is setting new personal standards for three-point shooting percentage (41.1%), points (12.3) and minutes (22.8) per game.

They provide depth that proves invaluable when one of the starters is out, and provide a dramatic advantage over most opponents when they all come off the bench.

Wednesday night, in a 110-101 victory over Memphis, Anderson was out because of a tight hamstring, but Reid and Alexander-Walker were vital. Reid scored 19 points, making six of his 11 shots from the field, including four of his six three-pointers. That was his 39th game of the season with double-digit scoring off the bench, which ranks fifth in the NBA and second among backup centers.

He also became the first Wolves player to come off the bench and reach 15 points, four three-pointers, five rebounds and two blocks since Eddie Griffin in 2004.

Alexander-Walker played fierce defense, scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, had five assists and a career-high four blocked shots. He became the first NBA player this season and the first in franchise history to come off the bench and score 10 points on 50% shooting with five assists and four blocks.

The NBA's 82-game schedule guarantees that starters playing heavy minutes are not going to be at their best, or available to start, every night. "The three of us, we look to each other, and know that whoever is called in first has to bring that energy and pace and that liveliness that we need," Alexander-Walker said.

"It's huge to have three guys who can do all of those things: passing, shooting, scoring, whatever the case may be," Reid said.

Anderson, 30, is having a down year in terms of three-point shooting (20.6%) but provides value in other ways. Reid, 24, and Alexander-Walker, 25, are proving that they could start for other teams. Wednesday was the first game Anderson has missed this year; Reid and Alexander-Walker are the only two Wolves to play in all 59.

Reid in particular often plays like a star while playing behind two stars: Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.

"I think Naz definitely has starter capabilities on this team, but the depth they have on this team allows him to play a lot of different roles — play with guys off the bench, play with starters, have that starter-level impact off the bench, which is lethal," Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. "He poses a threat on the offensive side with his physicality, his rolling ability. He shoots 40% from the three-point line on pretty decent volume. He crashes the boards, does everything that the Timberwolves try to attack you with: physicality, getting downhill, shooting the three-ball and punishing you on the boards.

"He's capable of doing all that. And give him a lot of credit for his defensive versatility: covering 4s and 5s, being able to switch on guards, using great length and lateral movement. To have a player like that coming off the bench just enhances their capabilities for 48 minutes, and obviously, he's helped them have the success they're having this season."