Timberwolves

How Do the Iowa Wolves Keep Pumping Out Great Talent?

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in “win now” mode following a hectic off-season. But they are also doing so with some great young talent that has come out of the team’s G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves. What has made Iowa a springboard to the NBA more than other teams, and who have been their most recent success stories?

The NBA first introduced a minor league in November of 2001, named the D-League. In 2017, they changed the name to the G-League after partnering with Gatorade. In 21 years, a few marquee names have come out of the G-League, including Kris Middleton, Pascal Siakam, and newly acquired Wolves big-man Rudy Gobert.

While the G-League has been a success for the entire NBA, let’s look at how crucial it has been for the Wolves, specifically.

The Timberwolves have been a rebuilding team for most of the recent years, except for 2017-18 and 2021-22. When you are rebuilding, the G-League is much more important for that team. Let’s now dive into who’s been the biggest success stories recently.

Naz Reid

Reid went undrafted in 2019 and signed a four-year deal with the Timberwolves. Before Reid made a name for himself in the NBA, he started his career in Iowa. Through 16 games, he put up 18 points per game, averaged 10 rebounds, and shot 50% from the floor.

Reid went from everyone passing on him in the draft and looking up at guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng in the rotation to being a key piece off the Wolves bench. Reid may not have the best defensive chops on the Wolves roster. But his regular output is phenomenal for someone who was in the G-League three years ago. He’s one of, if not the best, success stories to ever come out of Iowa.

Jaylen Nowell

The Wolves selected Nowell with the 43rd pick in the 2019 draft. Like Reid, he has clawed his way from the G-League to become a vital part of the Timberwolves rotation. Nowell played 26 games for Iowa during the 2019-20 season, putting up 21 points per game, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists on 50% from the floor and 44% from three.

It was apparent early on that Nowell was too good for the G-League. Still, he had difficulty finding a place for himself in the NBA.

Many Wolves fans wanted to see Nowell get consistent minutes off the bench last season. Ultimately, he never did, mostly because of Malik Beasley. Though Nowell’s NBA sample size wasn’t that large last season, the team has bigger plans for him.

By trading Beasley to the Utah Jazz, the Wolves freed up minutes for Nowell to thrive off the bench. All Nowell has to do is be ready for this opportunity.

Honorable Mentions: Kelan Martin & Jarred Vanderbilt

Martin is no longer with the Timberwolves, but it would be a crime not to include him in this list. He was with the Timberwolves during the 2019-20 season and got his start in the G-League. Martin proved early on just how big of a shot-maker he could truly be during his time in Iowa, putting that on display during his 39-point outburst against the Stockton Kings.

His consistent diet on offense eventually led Martin up to Minnesota amid a horrible season for the Wolves. He put up 6.0 points per game on almost 40% from three in 31 NBA games. While his time in Minnesota wasn’t long, he may not have found his way in the league without it.

It may be hard for some to accept that Vanderbilt is no longer on the Timberwolves, but the impact that Iowa had on him was huge. Vanderbilt was never truly able to showcase his talent when he was deep in the depth chart in Denver. Therefore, a fresh start seemed necessary for the then 20-year-old forward.

He was only active for two games after the Timberwolves traded for him during the 2019-20 season. But he put up 16 points per game, averaged 13 rebounds, and shot 50% from the floor in five games with Iowa.

Watching him dominate in Iowa reminded me of the way Giannis Antetokounmpo attacks the paint and is versatile despite his size. Of course, Vanderbilt is not the caliber of player Giannis is, but the impact he brings to a team is still impeccable.

Every team needs its own Vando, someone who’s going to give it 210% every day. Despite taking him a while to earn the trust and respect of then-head coach Ryan Saunders, he put a lasting mark on the Timberwolves organization. While Vando’s time in Minnesota may have come to a quick end, his NBA career is just getting started.

Although the Timberwolves are in win-now mode, the Iowa Wolves will be a huge part of what the Timberwolves will be building, especially with Tim Connelly at the helm. However, Minnesota doesn’t have a plethora of first-round draft picks in the coming years. Despite that, recent rookies Wendell Moore Jr. and Josh Minott will likely start their NBA careers down in Iowa, just as many other players before them have.

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