Timberwolves

What Does Chris Finch's Praise For Jaylen Nowell Mean For Minnesota's Future?

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Several names likely come to mind when thinking about the young talent on the Minnesota Timberwolves. From Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels to newly draftees Walker Kessler, Wendell Moore Jr., and Josh Minott, Minnesota’s abundance of young, skilled players is undeniable.

For Chris Finch, though, another member of the Timberwolves lies at the forefront of his mind.

Jaylen Nowell.

Finch decided not to play Nowell in 18 games last year. Nowell was used primarily as the team’s break in case of emergency guard, and he typically only saw meaningful minutes whenever D’Angelo Russell or Patrick Beverley were unavailable. And after only playing 12 playoff minutes during garbage time of a 28-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 2, it appeared that Nowell’s role had been solidified as nothing more than an end-of-the-bench player.

But during Tuesday’s post-draft press conference, Finch mentioned Nowell in the same sentence as Edwards and McDaniels.

So what does that mean for Minnesota’s future?

When organizing the current members of the roster into the three “positionless basketball” positions (guards, wings, bigs), the team has a logjam where Nowell projects to slot in:

The Wolves will have to shake up their roster if they are trying to find Nowell a consistent role in the rotation.

The Russell trade rumors continue to get louder. Look, I firmly believe the Wolves should not trade Russell this offseason. His play was integral to Minnesota’s 46-win season, and he was the reason the Wolves made it past the Los Angeles Clippers during the play-in tournament.

But the relationship between DLo and the team appears to be broken beyond repair. Maybe that’s the motivation behind Finch’s adamancy in finding Mr. Big Tymah more minutes next year.

Like Russell, Nowell’s a scorer first and foremost. Although more of a shot creator for himself, Jaylen has proven to be a reliable facilitator, given his small role for most of his career. Last season, Nowell ranked eighth in the league in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6-1). For comparison, DLo posted an AST-TO ratio of just 2.84-1 last season. Nowell could be just as good of a passer from the perimeter, though, if given similar minutes.

A Russell trade would create a dilemma for Nowell, though. Minnesota would need to take in salary relatively close to Russell’s outgoing $31 million. Therefore, the Wolves almost had to bring in a competent guard to fill DLo’s void.

After putting the team on his back during Game 4 against the Grizzlies, it’s hard to envision Finch demoting Jordan McLaughlin. It’s no secret that Finch is a fan of McLaughlin’s, and for good reasons. He’s a commander on the offensive end, connecting the coaching staff and his teammates while on the court. That’s something Nowell isn’t particularly known for.

Sure, Nowell is a good ball-handler. But McLaughlin proved to be one of the best last season. He ranked third in the NBA in terms of AST-TO ratio (4.9), behind none other than Apple Valley’s Tre and Tyus Jones. J-Mac is also one of the few players on the roster who can constantly pressure the rim. That allows him to dish out dimes to teammates such as Malik Beasley and Naz Reid, who often struggle at creating their own offense. While Nowell is more than deserving of being a part of the Timberwolves rotation, Finch likely won’t play him if it comes at McLaughlin’s expense.

However, Beverley may be the key to finding more minutes for Nowell. The heart and soul of one of the most fun Minnesota teams in recent memory, Beverley was a key contributor to the team’s success last season. But Pat Bev will turn 34 next month, while Nowell will celebrate his 23rd birthday next week. After everything he’s done for this franchise, it’s hard to envision a Timberwolves team without Beverley on the floor. But Father Time is not on his side, and Finch may want to get Nowell more playing time.

It’s hard to see where Nowell cracks the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rotation next year. With little sign of any trades in the team’s near future, and Finch assuming the role of president in the Jordan McLaughlin Fan Club, it looks like Nowell could remain just another plug-and-play guard next season.

However, Finch’s comments about the former Washington Husky were unprompted, insinuating he firmly believes that Jaylen is a valuable piece of Minnesota’s young core. And unless Finch is doing his best impression of Tom Thibodeau praising Kris Dunn just hours before trading him to Chicago, we should expect the Wolves to make some roster moves to free up minutes for one of the league’s best pick-and-roll ball handlers.

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Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

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