The Minnesota Timberwolves roster hierarchy is pretty straightforward. There are first-tier guys like Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert. Then there are the second-tier guys like D’Angelo Russell and Jaden McDaniels. Although Nowell is widely considered a less impactful player than McDaniels, Nowell can make a case for being up there with those tier-two players.
Nowell was relatively healthy, but he only played 62 games last year. Nowell didn’t let it bother him, though. He stayed ready throughout every game the Wolves played last season, and his talent was evident when he played. When Minnesota’s big three came down with COVID-19 before a game against the Boston Celtics, Nowell dropped a career-high 29 points, willing the Wolves to a 108-103 win.
A proficient scorer, Nowell averaged 8.5 points last season, the second-lowest mark of his three-year career. Although it was a down year for Nowell, he made the most of his minutes. A crowded guard rotation meant he didn’t have much opportunity last season, though. Nowell should see a significant increase in his role with Malik Beasley and Patrick Beverley gone.
Nowell not only can show fans that he deserves to be recognized as a tier two player, but he has the talent to be more impactful than McDaniels this season. That sounds insane at first, but it becomes much more believable once you look at it in context.
McDaniels has gained a lot of belief from the fan base, and for good reason. He has the athletic profile and body type to become a high-level 3-and-D player in the future. But right now, he’s acting as Minnesota’s glue guy on their starting roster. While that’s a valuable role, it’s not as important as the primary scorer off the bench.
Nowell is a more versatile scorer than Beasley or Beverley. It’s important to note that Nowell was Minnesota’s second-best three-point shooter last season and had a better two-point field goal percentage than Edwards.
A common misconception that fans fell into last season was assuming Nowell was a similar player to Beasley. It’s understandable because Nowell’s limited role meant we only saw that side of Nowell. But he is so much more than that. Nowell can score at all three levels, be a primary ball-handler, and be a primary playmaker.
McDaniels cannot run an offense. His position and skill set do not allow it. And someone who can run their own offense will always be more important than someone who can’t. Although McDaniels possesses a more diverse set of skills on defense, they all pale in comparison to Nowell’s offensive capabilities.
Nowell shot 49% from mid-range last season, making him a part of the dwindling player count that scores efficiently from there. In a league where the mid-range shot has become less valuable, it is an effective fold to add to his offensive game and a joy to watch.
Gobert’s presence should allow Russell to be more productive. But one underrated aspect of the addition is how he will interact with the bench unit, and Nowell is the player who will benefit the most off the bench.
Last season, Nowell was in the 91st percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, although one possession is a low frequency. Even with the small sample, adding an elite roller like Gobert to the roster will increase the frequency and efficiency.
Nowell has the opportunity to be a big game-changer for the Wolves next season. The Wolves were 8-3 in games where Nowell scored 15 points last season.
McDaniels will be an impactful player next season. Although many fans believe he will take a huge jump, I just don’t see the opportunity for it. With a cramped starting lineup and a bench unit that will see McDaniels compete with Kyle Anderson and Taurean Prince for playing time, it will be tough to see any considerable improvement.
It’s almost the opposite situation for Nowell next season. Still, he’s not getting as much love from fans, and it’s unclear why. With a majority of his competition gone and a perfect skill set to run the bench unit, there’s no better opportunity for Nowell. Expect Nowell to take a big jump on the court this season.