Timberwolves rookie center Naz Reid came to Minnesota from Louisiana State University where he spent the entirety of his one-year collegiate basketball career.
LSU is just under 80 miles from Smoothie King Center where he’ll be welcomed back to Louisiana by college friends on Tuesday night when the Wolves face the Pelicans.
Reid will also have the, uh, pleasure of defending friend and basketball icon Zion Williamson during his welcome-back game.
“Zion is a great all-around player,” Reid said after Tuesday’s shootaround. “He can do remarkable and unbelievable things that people have never seen before or may not think he can do.”
That isn’t breaking news to anyone who considers themselves a basketball fan, but Reid has learned this up close ever since playing AAU against Williamson and alongside him in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Reid has been admiring Williamson’s game ever since.
“He’s come a long way from where he was shooting to where he’s shooting now,” Reid said. “It’s something that not a lot of people realize. They said he wouldn’t be able to do this and this at this level, but he’s proved them wrong. He’s one of my best friends, so it’s definitely going to be fun to compete against him.”
Williamson has scored 20 or more points and shot above 50% from the field in all but two of his 15 games so slowing him down Tuesday night will be a challenge, to say the least. Yet, Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders has clear expectations for Reid and the rest of the defense when it comes to challenging the Pelicans’ generational talent.
“Beating a player like that to a spot and continuing to be physical,” Saunders said. “You don’t necessarily say playing without fouling. That’s the expectation for every possession, that you have proper technique, stay solid within the confines of the rules. But don’t put yourself in a position where you don’t have an angle and where you leave it up to chance whether it be a put-back, a second jump, a quick layup or a foul call.”
Saunders shared that learning to defend without fouling in the NBA is a learning process all rookies must go through. Reid is currently averaging 2.6 fouls per game this season and has recorded five fouls in five of the last 10 games he’s played, but Saunders believes he’s seen growth from his big man.
“It’s a learning process, and Naz is getting better with that,” Saunders said. “I think we’ve seen that as of late, and it’s a good challenge tonight — not only for him but the rest of our group.”
It wasn’t all Zion talk at Tuesday’s shootaround where Wolves guard Malik Beasley was also praised by Saunders.
So far, Saunders has been impressed by Beasley’s ability to create opportunities for himself in catch-and-shoot action. Since coming to Minnesota, Beasley is attempting 5.9 catch-and-shoot 3s per game and connecting on 35.8% of those shots.
Saunders also commended Beasley’s willingness to guard dynamic players ranging from point guards to small forwards. And of course, his work ethic was mentioned.
“A lot of times you’ll see a work ethic when either people are around or when you’re new to a team, you’re new to a group. With Malik, it hasn’t wavered,” Saunders said. “He’s in the gym all the time so if he misses shots or he doesn’t know something, it’s never going to be for lack of effort.”
Beasley not only leads by example but is also one of the team’s most vocal players. He holds his teammates to the same high standards he holds for himself, which Saunders appreciates, especially from a newcomer.
“He’ll hold players accountable and he expects other guys to hold him accountable as well,” Saunders said. “We’ve had great dialogue within our team when it comes to players, and I think that just shows you these guys are bought-in and they care.”