The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t gotten off to the start they wanted. The team has illuminated some of its core issues through the early part of the season. They’ve had offensive slumps in the closing stretch of games, defensive lapses, and miscommunication on defensive assignments. It’s pretty clear that this team will have to go through some growing pains before they can live up to their preseason expectations.
However, while the team has to work on refining some of these early-season issues, there have been a couple of bright spots for the Wolves. Jaylen Nowell’s play has been one of them.
Nowell has gotten off to a solid start as Minnesota’s primary scorer off the bench. Throughout their first five games this season, Nowell has averaged 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 22 minutes per game off the bench. Nowell’s best game of the season so far came in the Wolves’ recent 134-122 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, in which Nowell scored 23 points off the bench on tremendous shooting splits of 69% from the floor and 60% from three on five three-point attempts.
Many expected to see a jump from Nowell entering this season. The Wolves traded two of their primary backcourt players this past offseason, Patrick Beverley and Malik Beasley, which many people believed would give Nowell more of an opportunity to showcase his talent. However, Nowell has surpassed even some Wolves fans’ expectations with his play. He has nearly doubled his point total from last season, averaging over 16 a game compared to 8.5 points per game last season.
While the Wolves should be excited to have a sparkplug off their bench for this crucial season, things get a bit tricky when it comes to Nowell’s long-term future with this team. Nowell is currently in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, making only $1.9 million this season. Earlier this week, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Wolves engaged in contract discussions with Nowell but that Nowell and his representation want to test the waters in unrestricted free agency next summer.
As a high-level scorer off the bench, there are a couple of contract comparisons for Nowell. Norman Powell, Jordan Clarkson, and Buddy Hield recently signed new contracts with their teams, and they could give an idea of what Nowell is using for a baseline in his contract negotiations.
Should we include Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole among these comparisons? No, because they have unique situations. Herro and Poole played a large role on their respective teams, either winning a championship or making a Finals run. Unless Nowell becomes an integral part of a Wolves team that reaches the Finals this season, I don’t really see Nowell reaching the $130-140 million type of contract that these two primary bench scorers made this offseason.
However, I think Powell, Clarkson, and Hield are more fair comparisons. They each played on more young and up-and-coming teams and were key bench players when they signed their big contracts.
Powell signed a 5-year, $90 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2021. In his contract year, Powell proved to be a top-level scorer off the bench for the Toronto Raptors before the Blazers traded for him. In Toronto and Portland, he averaged 18.6 points per game on 41% shooting from the field and 41% from the three during the 2020-21 season.
Clarkson signed a 4-year, $52 million deal with the Utah Jazz in 2020. The signing paid immediate dividends for Utah. Clarkson would average a career-high 18.4 points per game that season and became the first player in Jazz history to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. Clarkson had averaged 15.2 points per game on splits of 45% from the field and 37% from three the season before his new contract deal.
Finally, Hield signed a 4-year, $94 million contract with the Sacramento Kings in 2019. In the year leading up to his contract signing, Hield averaged 20.7 points per game, shooting 46% from the field and 42% from three.
Given these player contract comparisons, Nowell could easily seek a new deal anywhere from $60 to 80 million over four years. That number will increase if Nowell continues to play to the level he has so far this season.
However, the Wolves are in a fairly tough spot when it comes to how they will handle this contract discussion.
Karl-Anthony Towns earned a large contract extension this offseason, signing a 4-year, $224 million supermax extension. The Wolves also traded for Rudy Gobert’s massive 5-year, $205 million contract from the Jazz following the trade for him. The Wolves are scheduled to pay Gobert, 30, over $40 million a year in each of the following three seasons.
Aside from those two massive deals, the Wolves are also on the clock with their young stars, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels. They are eligible for contract extensions as soon as this season ends.
The Wolves currently rank 17th in the league in terms of luxury tax, with a $147 million payroll. However, following their likely extensions to Ant and likely McDaniels, the Wolves may be put in a tight spot when it comes to what they can offer to Nowell.
Nowell deserves a fair and rewarding contract extension after this season, especially if he continues to play this well as the leading scorer off the bench. However, it will ultimately fall into Tim Connelly and Co.’s hands after this year. Minnesota’s success (or lack thereof) and available free agents next summer will likely play a role in how the Wolves approach their contract deals. Therefore, it could be worthwhile for Minnesota to consider making a good offer to Nowell. He has the potential to be a very valuable piece as a young and effective three-level scorer for any good team in this league moving forward.