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Getting to Know Jaylen Nowell’s Game

What exactly are the Wolves getting in their second round pick? Let’s discuss.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot to think about at the top of Thursday night’s NBA draft. Gersson Rosas used his first major roster move to ship off Dario Saric and the 11th pick for the Phoenix Suns’ 6th pick. Then there was some chatter about trading that pick as well, an idea that didn’t come to fruition and left Minnesota to select Texas Tech stud Jarrett Culver.

As the news of their newest lottery pick made shock waves throughout the Wolves community, Rosas’ second-round selection was left to slip through the cracks. Late at night and with so much drama proceeding, it was easy to forget that the team also held the 43rd pick.

Whether you had drifted off to sleep or scurried onto YouTube to scourer through Culver highlights, you may have missed that Minnesota took Washington guard Jaylen Nowell. The 19-year-old was an integral part of this year’s Huskies squad, putting up 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game while connecting on 50.2 percent of his field goals and 44 percent of his 3-point attempts.

With the addition of Culver and Nowell, Minnesota now has a well-documented glut at both shooting guard and small forward, even if Robert Covington is reportedly set for more time at the power forward position. With that in mind, it takes some pretty grueling mental gymnastics to envision a route where their newest second-round pick gets reliable minutes from the get-go.

Of course, that can all change with an injury or roster move as the season progresses. Nobody expected Keita Bates-Diop, the Wolves’ second-round pick in 2018, to gather playing time last season and he ended up featuring in 30 games and even made three starts.

If Nowell does wiggle his way into the rotation, there is plenty to like about his game and fit. Obviously, the first thing that has made headlines is his lofty 3-point percentage. It’s extremely unlikely he will waltz into the league as a player who can knock down over 40 percent of his triples, but he has every chance to be a very reliable long-range gunner.

Unlike some high-percentage shooters, the 6-foot-4 guard wasn’t pigeonholed into a low-usage spot-up shooters role during his sophomore season. He finished the year with a relatively high usage rate (25.3%), which lent itself to plenty of off-dribble triples — raising his ceiling as a 3-point shooter.

Nowell also enjoys using his step-back and sidestep escape dribble to avoid defenders that are hurtling toward him to try and thwart his jumper, as you can see in the example above. Being able to avoid defenders while staying shot-ready is the kind of ability that usually translates well to the big leagues, especially with faster, bouncier, and more astute defenders running at him.

Becoming a dangerous shooter in the NBA will be crucial for the 19-year-old, because, despite his high usage at Washington, he is still a fairly low-volume shooter (3.2 attempts per game). Instead, he thrives on his ability to do work inside the arc. He has a decent one or two dribble pull-up game after forcing defenders to bite on his 3-point pump-fake, but mainly flashes his mid-range mastery in isolation or pick-and-roll, where he punishes defenders for giving him a sliver of room.

Due to its analytical inefficiency, the mid-range shot is a dying art form in the NBA. Alternatively, teams are opting to live and die at the rim, free throw line, and 3-point arc. Minnesota has staved off converting to this style for far too long but with Gersson Rosas, who was one of the forefathers of Houston’s analytic takeover, the Wolves will undoubtedly be remodeling themselves to keep up with the modern world.

Luckily for Nowell already has the long-range shooting down pat and you don’t become a 52.5 percent shooter from 2-point range without being an adept finisher around the rim in both half court and transition.

In spite of his size and slight-ish frame, he is a deceptively good finisher at the coalface. He does so with a quick burst, nifty layup package, and a developing floater.

When he is able to get out on the fast break, he is a blur that can finish above the rim or make the right pass to teammates flanking him.

Obviously, it’s not all roses for Nowell. If he was the perfect player there is no way he would have slipped to the second round without a monstrous uproar. He is a decent passer, but he can often come down with a case of tunnel vision on offense. With more versatile and staunch defenders at the next level, he will have to avoid becoming too single-minded when it comes to scoring.

The new Wolf also isn’t going to inspire any coaching manuals on defense. It is hard to get a solid read on his potential on that end in Mike Hopkins 2-3 zone scheme, but he was culpable of more than a few defensive lapses — mainly occurring when he was caught ball watching and lost track of his man.

Even with his blemishes, Nowell looks like he really could make a splash in the league regardless of his draft position.

He is young, smart, and possesses a bit of skill in most departments. If the 43rd pick does manage to weave his way through Minnesota’s surplus of wings, he could really become a handy role player.