There are two words in the English language that can pull Minnesota Timberwolves fans back from the brink of the despair they’ve been living in for 20 years. Naz Reid has brought pure basketball joy to Minnesota during his four-and-a-half seasons with the Timberwolves, and he’s been on the fringes of the Sixth Man of the Year award chatter for most of this season. The Honk If You Love Naz Reid campaign is going national. Nothing seems to stand in the way of Naz Reid becoming a global icon and winning a championship with the Timberwolves this season.
But the once-impregnable Timberwolves are showing cracks in the armor as we stride into the second half of the season, and Reid’s punch off the bench isn’t hitting as hard as it did in 2023. The Wolves started the season 20-5 and on pace for a dominant 65-win season. They had a +7.2 net rating while playing some of the best basketball in the league. Reid was a big part of the best start in franchise history, averaging 13.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game on 50/39/93 shooting in 22.5 minutes off the bench. It was a beautiful barrage of quick-draw threes and punishing rim attacks from the agile 6’9″, 264 lbs. center.
But all great things must come to an end, or in this case, slightly decline.
Since their monster 20-5 start, the Wolves are a respectable 14-9 and a +4.3 net rating. But their defense is taking a small but significant step back, and Minnesota’s bench is almost nonexistent. The Wolves are limping into the All-Star break with ugly losses to the Charlotte Hornets and San Antonio Spurs in a disappointing month of January. Like the team, Naz Reid has seen a slight decline in his play over the last month and a half. Naz’s scoring average in his previous 23 games has dipped to 11.1 points per game on 47/45/52 shooting splits. His three-ball is popping at career-best numbers, but Reid hasn’t had the same juice he did at the start of the season when he quickly became a household name.
Since mid-December, Reid has been attempting one fewer shot per game. That’s not a huge decline, but with fewer shots from the bench, Reid’s offensive impact is shrinking on a team that’s 19th in offensive efficiency this season. The root of his waning offensive firepower comes from his attempts to score around the rim. 20-5 Naz Reid made 73.2 percent of his buckets in the restricted area; 14-9 Naz Reid is down to 62.1 percent around the basket.
He also went from shooting 93 percent from the free throw line to barely cracking 50 percent from the charity stripe over the last 45 days. These ebbs and flows will happen in an 82-game season, especially for someone who doesn’t get to the free-throw line often. Reid has attempted 69 free throws in 48 games. But, oddly, someone who was flirting with a 50/40/90 season dropped nearly 20 percentage points from the line in a single season.
These dips in Naz Reid’s scoring efficiency aren’t a big deal in a vacuum. They also aren’t the leading cause of Minnesota’s struggles in the new year. But look around at his fellow benchmates, and you’ll see why Naz not scoring as efficiently becomes a big deal.
After a career-best shooting season last year, Kyle Anderson has the yips and almost refuses to shoot. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a fine offensive player but makes his money as a ball-stopper on defense. Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. are out of the rotation, and Jordan McLaughlin has been twice in the past two seasons. The Timberwolves are 23rd in the NBA in bench scoring, with just 31.5 points per game coming from the second unit. Reid must remain a primary-level scorer for the Wolves to keep up with their opponents when the starters take a breather.
The Wolves are still in first place in the loaded Western Conference despite the slip in quality over the last 25 games. But things will need to ramp back up after the All-Star break if they want to advance past the first round for the second time in franchise history. Naz scored five points in three straight games in Minnesota’s ugly loss to the Hornets and in their struggles to beat the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets last week. But he’s bounced back with a few near-average performances since. He had 13 points in the loss to the Spurs, nine in the win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and 12 in the blowout victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.
Naz Reid is one of Minnesota’s superpowers coming off the bench. Teams will be hard-pressed to stop Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Mike Conley, and Jaden McDaniels from scoring. But when they do, they have Naz Reid raining hellfire on them from all over the court. To reach their final form and compete for a championship, the Wolves will need Naz Reid to return to his roots and make every Timberwolf fan yell their favorite two words deep into June.