The series of Minnesota Timberwolves player grades from the 2019-20 season continues with the Wolves' surprisingly effective backup rookie point guard, Jordan McLaughlin.
The newly-acquired trio of Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez and James Johnson combined for 52 of the Wolves’ 142 points that night. Karl-Anthony Towns added 22, and the team as a whole made 26 3-pointers, the highest total of makes from deep in franchise history.
But leading the charge was Jordan McLaughlin, a 5-foot-11 point guard who in his first ever NBA start poured in 24 points on only 15 shots, had 11 assists, four rebounds, and zero turnovers.
Like fellow rookie and two-way player Kelan Martin, McLaughlin went undrafted out of USC in 2018. He played a year for the Long Island Nets of the G League before signing with the Wolves’ Summer League squad in 2019, and along with Martin leading that team to a second-place finish in Las Vegas. That earned him a two-way contract for the 2019-20 season.
He ended up spending most of his time with the Wolves G League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves, over the first half of the season, as Jeff Teague, Shabazz Napier and Jarrett Culver manned the point guard spot for the Timberwolves.
In mid-January, however, Teague was traded to Atlanta and Napier was eventually traded at the trade deadline. McLaughlin was called up to take some of those minutes, and he never looked back.
McLaughlin was an underrated part of the Timberwolves’ offensive jump post-trade deadline, with per-36-minute averages of 16.4 points, 8.5 assists, 2.2 steals and only 2.3 turnovers during that span.
Defensively, he did some to make up for his lack of height with peskiness and good team play, and the advanced metrics showed him to be only slightly below average on that end for the year. (Click through each of the links for further explanation on each statistic.)
Perhaps the most intriguing part of McLaughlin’s game was his ability to get to the rim seemingly at will. As Dylan Jackson mentioned, McLaughlin is the type of player that NBA teams covet as someone who can score efficiently, both in the paint and beyond the arc.
On the scale of former Wolves backup point guards, McLaughlin is a better scorer than Tyus Jones was for the Wolves, and a better defender than J.J. Barea.
Whether he was playing the point or benefiting from D’Angelo Russell’s wizardry, McLaughlin was a threat to score or create plays for others whenever he was on the court in 2019-20.
He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, either. Per NBA.com, McLaughlin used only 15.1 percent of the Wolves’ possessions when he was on the court, lower than any current Wolf other than Josh Okogie. That facet of his game allowed him to play surprising well opposite D’Angelo Russell.
If the Wolves do end up re-signing McLaughlin this summer, it will be intriguing to see how often and to what degree of success the team utilizes a Russell-McLaughlin backcourt. It has its obvious defensive limitations, but could be very scary offensively with or without Karl-Anthony Towns.
While with the Iowa Wolves in the G League this year, McLaughlin’s numbers were not far off from his NBA numbers. In 23 games, he averaged 19 points, 7.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.9 turnovers per 36 minutes, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. He also led the team in total plus-minus, averaging a positive 4.3 differential per game.
2019-20 Season Grade: A
Given what McLaughlin was able to accomplish at both the NBA and G League levels this year, it's hard to give him any other grade than an 'A'.
The eye test says that McLaughlin is a top-tier backup point guard with the potential to be even more. Still, the list of impressive backups who have failed to capitalize on bigger roles is long. Quality wings are expensive; perhaps that is where the front office will choose to spend its non-Towns and Russell money.
But the market is also expected to be extremely team-friendly this summer, and if the Wolves are able to retain McLaughlin for a reasonable price they should be thrilled.