We’re so close. Just one more month until Minnesota Timberwolves basketball.
But until then, we have no choice but to apply trends we saw from a successful season last year to an impending speculated success this year, even though nobody knows how this will look upon opening tip; perhaps even Chris Finch doesn’t as of now.
Behind the much-needed step in progressing the franchise in the form of meaningful, regular season and postseason games in 2021 were years of player development during seasons that not as many cared about.
In fact, the Rudy Gobert trade wouldn’t have been possible without said player development, and guys stepping up in their roles (Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley specifically come to mind here).
Even though this Wolves roster is the most talented it has been in years, there are still sizable questions marks that need answering. Those answers will have to come in the form of players who previously didn’t answer them on a consistent basis.
Nowell is the obvious No. 1 candidate here. Finch has been glowing about him all offseason, and there seems to be a pretty wide sense of optimism that Nowell has more tools in his belt that we could see this season. But how often he gets to show them lies in the hands of defensive performance.
Coming out of college at Washington, where he won Pac-12 Player of the Year, he was seen as a bucket-getter that needed to fine-tune and round out the playmaking and defensive elements of his game in order to cut out a role.
Three seasons later, we see the fruits of that labor. Nowell was MUCH more fluid and confident in getting to the basket last season compared to past ones. He did it without turning the ball over, too, as he turned it over on only 6.8% of possessions in which he used the ball, ranking him in the 94th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
JAYLEN NOWELL POSTER pic.twitter.com/SmNZMuPgBC— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 4, 2022
He shot 60% on shots less than five feet in (nearly 10% better than 2020-21), and continued to be one of the best shooters on the team from 5-14 feet out (mid-range), which is where we saw him start to cut out a role for himself in 2020. Nowell connected on 47% of his mid-range looks (63-134) last season, ranking him in the 84th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
Another interesting note? I’ll do it in the form of a blind resume in NBA Stats’ ISO numbers from last year.
Nowell: 6.2% frequency | 46.2% FG | 48.2% eFG
Mystery Player: 9.4% frequency | 43.4% FG | 51.4% eFG
Chris Finch continually going out of his way to pump up Jaylen Nowell is a fun development.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) June 28, 2022
I love Nowell's game and what he brings when he's on, so if he can raise his floor along with his ceiling, he could be a legitimate 15-18 PPG guy off the bench with a 20+ minute role https://t.co/P9ADDZWr0L
Mystery player? D’Angelo Russell. Do they get different defensive attention? Absolutely. However, something like that is still encouraging. Russell is a good ISO player. That, combined with Finch’s public expectations of an expanded playmaking arsenal from Nowell, would make him a prime candidate to take another step this season. His best role is probably similar to that of his fellow Seattle native Jamal Crawford in 2017-18, but infused with more passing and less taking rhythm away from the offense.
Heading into free agency, I thought Paschall could be a good candidate for the Wolves’ bi-annual exception. Turns out, Rudy Gobert’s continued teammate came for less than that as a two-way player and will fight for a roster spot in camp.
Paschall’s career has fallen off a little bit from his impressive rookie campaign, but I think part of that had to do with the system shift from the Golden State Warriors to the Utah Jazz. Now in a system that will play faster, with a more creatively-minded offensive coach, I think Paschall has the chance to be an interesting storyline if he can work his way onto the floor.
They're going wild for Eric Paschall!— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 5, 2019
He drops 36 on his birthday pic.twitter.com/UMZJSCRko3
He’s not the best defensive player, but was most effective net-rating wise playing next to a solid big and perimeter defender. He had one of the best net ratings on the Jazz last year playing next to Hassan Whiteside among two-man lineups.
While he had an overall negative net rating among ALL minutes he played next to Gobert, that trended significantly in a more positive direction when adding Joe Ingles or Mike Conley into the mix. Is it unfair to assume a similar thing wouldn’t happen next to Gobert and Jaden McDaniels, or an improved on-ball defender in Anthony Edwards?
Paschall is gifted on the offensive end, but if he makes the roster and finds more balance to his game, I think he can find himself a role.
This will be the third time this offseason I’m beating the Naz Reid drum, and it’s about three more than I thought I would a few months ago. But while many think the Gobert move signaled the end of Reid in Minnesota, I start to like his fit on this team more and more.
Yes, he shoots over 40% from the corners. Yes, he’s a capable dribble-driver. But the Wolves never had the personnel to deploy him in big lineups on a more consistent basis. His minutes with KAT were up-and-down, but I think a lot of that is because they weren’t able to happen often with how the rotation functioned. Now with Gobert in the fold, I’m pretty comfortable in saying he will almost never be the biggest player in the lineup.
For years on end, the Wolves have been making calls to try and get PJ Tucker to Minnesota because of how much of a Swiss army knife he can be, switchable on defense and the ability to make shots on offense. Let’s say for a second that Reid’s feet get a little quicker, and he guards 4s with a little more consistency. Could he be the inverse of that? A competent defender and a little bit of an offensive weapon, given the opportunity to play more minutes and build rapport with a big in Gobert or KAT? It certainly begs the question.
Hopefully, we’ll be hearing a lot of this song in 2022-23.