Before the All-Star break, I found myself listlessly writing about the Minnesota Timberwolves. I was grasping at straws looking for things to get excited about as the Wolves lost game after game. Of course, the transition to Chris Finch was not going to be smooth and it’s not like I had any faith in this team to win games under Ryan Saunders. But still, it was a dark time.
Now there is light beginning to peek out from somewhere off in the distance. In the three games since the All-Star break, the Timberwolves have blown out the Pelicans by 30 points and split the two-game series against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Maybe this isn’t worth getting excited over, but we’re talking about the Wolves here. We are allowed to get hyped about even the faintest hint of success.
One of the brightest parts of this 2-1 mini-run by the Wolves has been the play of Jaylen Nowell. The former PAC-12 Player of the Year is showing us exactly why he won that award. Over the last seven games, Nowell has averaged 14 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while shooting 50% from the 3-point line. His scoring off the bench along with his steady ball-handling, with D’Angelo Russell and Jordan McLaughlin unavailable, has bolstered the bench and helped Minnesota play competitive basketball.
Nowell was drafted with the 43rd pick in 2019. Wolves fans only got to see him play in 15 games last season, for a total of 151 minutes. The casual fan didn’t know much about him, and even I knew very little. To me, he was a tweener guard who could put the ball in the bucket, which, if I’m being honest, is a dime-a-dozen player profile.
But during his time in the G-League, Nowell showed that he could not only score, but he could do it efficiently. In 26 games with the Iowa Wolves, Nowell averaged 21 points on 63% true shooting. His 3-point shooting was astounding as he made 44% of his shots from that range.
Given all the injuries, health and safety protocol absences, and Malik Beasley’s suspension, Finch has had to rely on Nowell to provide a scoring punch off the bench. He has not failed to deliver.
Nowell has shown that he has a versatile jump shot that he can convert off the dribble:[videopress zRuCSEA4]
Catching on the run:[videopress C5hUvnMk]
Or simply a catch-and-shoot from a standstill:[videopress 6BYuXKw8]
But Nowell has struggled on the defensive end. He doesn’t lack the size or athleticism to be a quality defender. It’s a matter of technique, awareness, and effort.
Watch here as Carmelo Anthony sets a screen; Nowell doesn’t even attempt to fight over it. Josh Okogie must have assumed that Nowell would be able to fight over a Melo screen and sticks with his man, which leaves Anfernee Simons with a wide-open look from three.[videopress xoL0JtI8]
Again, here you’ll see Dame set a screen on Nowell. He gets caught on the screen and Gary Trent Jr. gets a good look from downtown.[videopress qoDKHXCy]
Nowell doesn’t necessarily need to be a plus defender in order to be a positive contributor to this Wolves team. I view him in the same vein as Lou Williams or Jordan Clarkson. Not to say that Jaylen will ever be as good as either of those players, but if he can continue to shoot above 40% from three, with the ability to create his own shot, he should be a quality sixth man off the bench.
It’s important to think about the importance of Nowell playing well on a larger scale. If the Wolves want a third star, they have to hope that Anthony Edwards or Jaden McDaniels develop into that. If that doesn’t happen, or they don’t have the patience to wait for that, they’ll need to trade for that star.
The conventional wisdom was that the Wolves traded for Ricky Rubio not only to be a mentor to this young team but to have a large salary to throw in a trade for a star. He has had a lackluster season, which has turned his contract into more of an albatross than an asset.
Since Rubio’s value has dipped so low, the Wolves need players like Nowell to show potential. His quality play can help boost his value as a quality player on an incredibly team-friendly contract to throw into a deal. If he can continue to play at this level, it will also make the idea of trading Beasley an easier pill to swallow.
Until Karl-Anthony Towns re-entered the lineup, Beasley was far and away the Wolves’ best player and was making a strong case for Most Improved Player. At this point, he has the most trade value of any Timberwolf outside of KAT. With his red-hot shooting and frenetic energy, he could help any competitive team upgrade their bench. If the Wolves could flip Beasley to upgrade one of the starting forward spots, it would be important for them to be able to find quality guard play to fill that gap, and Nowell playing like this would certainly be enough to fill that need.