Timberwolves’ Jaylen Nowell is finally getting his opportunity, and he’s ready to seize it
Minnesota spent the offseason publicly pumping up the 4th-year guard
MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves spent the offseason publicly pumping up guard Jaylen Nowell, which left a segment of the fan base simply thinking: Finally.
Nowell has spent the first three years of his career flashing his potent scoring prowess and promise for more. Last season, when Minnesota’s roster was ravaged by COVID-19, it was Nowell who carried much of the offensive load. He’s capable of doing that at the highest level.
But youth, a lack of defensive aptitude and, most recently, backcourt depth often kept him off the floor.
But this season appears to be the 23-year-old’s opportunity to truly show what he’s got on a consistent basis with consistent minutes.
While the bottom of the Timberwolves’ rotation appears to be a log jam flush with competent players, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch has stated that the 6-foot-4 guard has earned an opportunity to be a part of it.
“His role is going to be kind of that x-factor off the bench. He’s done that for us in the past, as you know, but now we’ll have a consistent role for it,” Finch said. “He’s played himself into that, and so far, he looks pretty good.”
Statements like that suggest Nowell’s spot in the rotation is indeed all but set — though a strong training camp would secure it. That marks a first in his still-young career. Minnesota’s trade for Rudy Gobert demonstrated a belief in the center’s ability to alter the franchise’s already-upward trajectory. But it also showed the confidence the Wolves had in a player like Nowell to step in and contribute after the team dealt away so many depth pieces.
“Obviously, with the trade that happened, it definitely opened up a lot of opportunity for me,” Nowell said. “And I think it’s my job to, you know, make sure I don’t take that for granted, I continue to get better as a player, and whenever I get on that court, you know, I just need be the best version of myself, so we have a good chance to be one of the best teams in the league.”
He has been preparing for this opportunity since he came into the league. Nowell said he’s attacked his situations with “tunnel vision.” He’s never worried about the number of minutes he was or wasn’t getting, but placed his focus solely on getting better. Some believe Nowell’s time should have arrived well before this fall. He isn’t worried about that.
“You know what’s here now,” he said, “and now it’s my turn.”
Nowell can round out this talented roster by doing a couple of things. He can aid a 3-point-needy roster by hitting triples at around the same clip he did last year, when he knocked down 39 percent of his 3-point attempts. He can also make a stride on the defensive end. The latter was a primary focus of the guards this offseason.
Every single workout he did this summer started with 20 minutes of “strictly defense.”
How do you practice defense?
“Roll the ball out and guard whoever was in front of me,” he said. “So you know, when you’re working on anything to that magnitude, you’re gonna get better at it.”
He’s learned through experience that he needs to slide his feet and not be so aggressive. Nowell doesn’t need to constantly swipe down for the ball. That often leads to foul trouble. He can just be solid. Staying in front of his opponent is often enough.
During the times when he wasn’t playing, Nowell said the coaching staff and everyone around him would continuously tell him to keep pushing. If he did that, things would start to work in his favor. He trusted the work, and it’s led to this — a true opportunity.
He believes that same work will help him take full advantage of what’s in front of him. Nowell was in Minneapolis in the weeks prior to training camp, and Finch noted the guard has looked “really, really good.”
“If I put my head down and decide to work … and I’m gonna hold myself to that, I think that everything is gonna fall into place,” Nowell said. “I told Coach, you know, I’m happy to accept that challenge. I’ve been put through a lot, just point blank, throughout my three years here. So, I think that, you know, I’m definitely up for that task, not only physically, but mentally. And I’m very excited to have this big role coming in this year.”
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