There is a strange phenomenon happening this season with Naz Reid. No, I’m not talking about the “Honk if you love Naz Reid” signs strewn around the streets of Minneapolis. Nor am I talking about Jeopardy contestant Anji Nyquist telling a national audience that she named her cat Naz Reid or that national podcasters are saying that teams could use a guy like Naz on their bench. These things are completely normal. Minnesota Timberwolves fans have known for a long time that Naz Reid is a future Hall of Famer.
The phenomenon I’m referring to happens on the court. Naz Reid almost always makes his first shot after coming into the game. Chris Finch subbed Reid into the Los Angeles Clippers game about halfway through the first quarter on Sunday. Immediately, Michael Grady and Jim Peterson talked about how much Naz has improved since the Wolves signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Reid took and made his first shot of the game in the middle of their conversation. After Naz hits the three, Grady says, “Reid on cue,” and Pete exclaims, “[Naz] always makes that first shot!”
It genuinely feels like Naz Reid always makes his first shot after coming into the game. A lot of the time, he makes a spot-up three, like he did against the Clippers. Jim Pete has been tracking this phenomenon throughout the year and has pointed it out a few times during the local TV broadcasts. However, his most recent call on Naz’s three made me wonder, just how good has Naz been on his first shot of the game this year? So, I did my best to go through Naz’s first shot of every game this season to find the answer.
Naz missed his first shot of the year, which initially made me worried that the phenomenon was more of a feeling than something statistically backed. But Naz made his first shot attempt every time in the next seven games I reviewed, and three of those made shots were threes. That got my imagination running wild, hoping that it would turn out Naz Reid was a 90% shooter on his first attempt of every game. While it’s not that ridiculously high, you may still be astounded by the numbers.
Reid has made 25 out of 39 of his first shot attempts this year, which equals 64.1% of the shots. While Naz doesn’t “always” make his first shot, it feels like he does because he’s hitting an incredibly high percentage of his first shots. As a point of reference, Reid is shooting 50.5% from the field this season, and he’s shooting 13.6% higher than that on his first shot of every game.
Jakob Poeltl and Daniel Gafford own the best field goal percentage in the NBA (68.5%). Poeltl and Gafford primarily dunk or attempt layups, and neither has attempted a three this season. There is only one player in the top seven of FG% who has attempted more than one three this season, Jalen Duren, who attempted two and missed both. So, Naz’s first shot FG% of 64.1% would be enough to put him above Rudy Gobert (63.6%) at sixth place in the league, and Reid takes a high volume of threes.
Eighteen of Naz’s 39 first shots of the game were three-point attempts. Reid has made 12 of those 18 threes, which means he’s shooting an incredible 66.7% from three-point range on his first shot of the game. That’s 18.6% higher than Malik Beasley (48.1%), the current league leader in three-point percentage.
Why is Naz Reid so good at making his first shot? There probably isn’t one easy answer. However, it’s probably a combination of practice, preparation, and mentality. Reid has been an important bench player since the Timberwolves brought up from their G League team in Iowa about halfway through his first season. Naz has improved every year to the point where he could be a good starter for several of the league’s young teams. Reid has gotten better every year, and so have the Wolves, which isn’t a coincidence. So, even though he has improved greatly throughout his career, Naz’s role hasn’t really changed since he entered the league.
Many players of Reid’s skill level eventually evolve over their careers. They go from being a deep bench player to a rotation player to a starter. However, because Naz has always played behind Karl-Anthony Towns, he has mostly evolved as a bench player. Reid has gone from crucial rotation player to designated bench bucket getter to a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. From what I can tell, that has never bothered Naz. His pre-existing relationship with KAT, who also grew up in New Jersey, was part of why he decided to sign with Minnesota after the draft. And the Wolves have given Reid opportunities to grow ever since.
Naz knows exactly what he needs to do in his role with the Timberwolves because he has been playing it since he arrived. He knows Minnesota needs scoring from him when he comes into the game. Reid also knows they need scoring from him more than ever this season, so he’s letting the ball fly whenever he gets an open shot. Naz has always shot with confidence. But he’s looked more confident than ever since the Wolves have empowered him to take on a bigger role and signed him to a nice contract.
Beyond confidence and role definition, a few other factors seem to contribute to Naz Reid’s first-shot ability. On many of his three-point attempts early in the season, opponents weren’t expecting Naz to come out gunning. They also may not have known how good of a shooter he was. In Minnesota’s first game against the Boston Celtics, Naz got the ball from Nickeil Alexander-Walker a few feet behind the three-point line. Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis were close enough that they could have run out to contest the shot. But neither did, and Naz made them pay.
In the New Orleans Pelicans game on November 18th, the Wolves ran an out-of-bounds play where KAT ran a misdirection route out to the three-point line at the top of the key and then to the corner. Naz went to where KAT had originally spotted up, got the ball off the inbounds pass, and canned a three. Jonas Valanciunas was in range but didn’t run out to contest quickly enough to impact Naz’s shot.
It was also a great play call, even if it looked like KAT didn’t know exactly what was supposed to happen., It forced Valanciunas to make a decision. He could sell out to contest Naz’s shot or stay home in the paint to defend against a drive or a pass to the cutting KAT.
Now that defenders know they have to run out to contest Naz on the perimeter, he has been able to take advantage. He makes dribble moves to get past them when they cover him too close, or he’ll drive with his quick first step into the lane when their momentum is already carrying them in the opposite direction.
Naz is becoming a great shooter. There are only three players in the league this year with a better field goal percentage than Reid who have attempted at least 175 three-point shots: Karl-Anthony Towns (51.2%), Kawhi Leonard (51.9%), and LeBron James (52.4%). That’s some elite company.
Although Naz doesn’t always hit his first shot, he hits them at an unprecedented rate while taking a high volume of threes. It has become an exciting phenomenon for Wolves fans to track, as is everything Naz Reid-related. Reid has been a boon for a team that needs bench shooting. Let’s hope he can continue to make his first shots at a high volume and make those weird stats even weirder.