Jaylen Nowell is lightning in a bottle.
Whenever he steps on the floor, I’m excited to see what he does. He’s so crafty, with killer touch from the midrange, (increasingly) efficient shooting, and sneaky bounce.
Jaylen Nowell is a BUCKET pic.twitter.com/dUY39ltcQs— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 27, 2022
Year Three: Taking Full Advantage of Opportunities
In his third NBA season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nowell took another step forward in his development. That sounds insignificant or minuscule, but it’s actually really exciting.
The 2019 Pac-12 Player of the Year has shown solid improvement year after year, which is all you can hope for from a second-round pick. As he’s gotten more playing time, he’s done well to polish his scoring talents.
Nowell has always been able to score, but through his first two years it wasn’t super efficient. His effective field goal percentage (eFG%) as a rookie was 38.7%, but this year it rose to 55.1%. He’s never had much volume as a scorer, though, due to his role in the rotation. Wolves head coach Chris Finch had Nowell on speed dial for the “we need someone off the bench to go get us a bucket” moments, and Nowell usually answered on the first ring.
Nowell averaged fewer shots per game this year (6.7 FGA vs. 8.0 FGA last year), but shot nearly 40% from 3 and 53% from two (up from 33% and 50%, respectively). This controlled scoring punch is deadly, and with continuous improvement he will play an important role for the Wolves.
This season Nowell ranked in the 92nd percentile in points per shot attempt (1.21 points scored per shot attempt, good for ninth in the league), according to Cleaning The Glass. For context, he finished in the 12th percentile his rookie year. Simply put, he was very efficient this year.
It’s a “perfecting his craft” of sorts, as this increased efficiency forces Finch and Co. to play him.
Best Performance/Highlight of 2021-22
The former University of Washington standout’s best game of the season came in a scoring barrage against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 27, a game in which he poured in a career-high 29 points. His efficient scoring was on full display, shooting a blistering 6/9 from 3 and 10/18 overall. He also tacked on six rebounds and three assists.
Oh, and this happened.
Nowell has a $1.9 million club option for 2022-23, which, if declined, will send him into restricted free agency. This would open the door for the Wolves to sign him to a team-friendly deal, although that’s much easier said than done. If the option is picked up, he’ll hit unrestricted free agency after next season.
If he performs as he did this year, someone will surely reward him with a solid contract. We don’t know what the future holds for the Wolves, but if they’re pressed up against the tax come next offseason, Nowell might be packing his bags.
As of now the Wolves have plenty of money coming off the books a year from now (D’Angelo Russell’s deal expires), but just one contract extension/signing/trade can change that.
There was talk before and during the season of Nowell getting some minutes at backup point guard, but it never quite came to fruition. Considering the depth at the position, it doesn’t seem like we’ll see much more of it, but adding some facilitation to his game and Nowell becoming a reliable secondary playmaker would be a nice touch. Establishing those skills would make him even more versatile in the PnR, considering he’s already got a nice midrange game and good finishing ability.
Depending on what the roster looks like next season, I’d love to see Nowell get more opportunity. The “give Nowell Malik Beasley’s minutes” chatter will certainly be fired up if Beasley struggles to begin next season and Nowell plays well.
Regardless of role, Nowell has become a joy to watch. His game resembles that of Lou Williams, as he’s got great touch with floaters, likes to score from the midrange, and has a nice handle to generate looks for himself. He can just flat-out score.
If he continues his progression — as he has been — he could be a fine piece of the Wolves’ (or another team’s) rotation for years to come.