Minnesota Timberwolves: Grading Jaylen Nowell’s 2019-20 season

Jaylen Nowell of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a portrait during the 2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jaylen Nowell of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a portrait during the 2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Jaylen Nowell was the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick in 2019. After splitting his first season as a professional between Des Moines and Minneapolis, it’s safe to say it was a success.

The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up Jaylen Nowell in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft.

As the reigning Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year, it was a mild surprise that Nowell was still on the board. Across just two seasons at Washington, Nowell averaged 16.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, but he improved his 3-point shooting percentage from a decent 35.1 as a freshman to a fantastic 44 percent as a sophomore. His overall field goal percentage was an impressive 50.2 percent.

His 6-foot-4 height and 6-foot-7 wingspan and massive improvement between his first and second year of college were seen as positives, as well as his ability to handle the ball after he spent stretches of his sophomore year running the point for the Huskies.

The Wolves nabbed him with the No. 13 pick of the second round, 43rd overall. After a bit of a saga in which Nowell’s agent was seeking more guaranteed money or years, the Wolves inked him to a deal with $1.4 million in guarantees and three team options.

Given Nowell’s rapid improvement at the collegiate level, shooting ability, and overall profile, it’s fair to project him as a viable rotation option in the near future. And don’t forget: he’s still only 20 years old. In his rookie year, Nowell spent most his time in the G League and had some uneven performances with the Timberwolves.

In 26 starts with the Iowa Wolves, Nowell made quick work of the G League. He averaged 21 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists with shooting splits of 49 percent from the field, 44.1 percent on 3-point attempts, and 73.3 percent from the free throw line.

The only real issues with Nowell’s first-year G League performance were a lack of free throw attempts and a mediocre assist-to-turnover mark. Nowell only attempted 1.7 free throws per game, which for a guy 17.5 field goals per night is extremely low. A free throw rate (number of free throws attempted per field goal attempts) of just .109 will not cut it for an NBA wing.

While Nowell’s per-game assist number was up from his final year of college and his assist rate of 15.7 percent is decent, when contrasted with his turnover rate of 11.3 percent it becomes a bit less impressive. Clearly, the Iowa Wolves ran a far amount of their offense through Nowell, so it would be fair to expect that assist number to climb a bit more.

In just 15 contests at the NBA level, Nowell played in 10.1 minutes per game and shot just 3-for-26 from beyond the arc (11.5 percent). His free throw rate was a much better .321, and he made 16 of his 17 attempts from the charity stripe.

There were a couple of appearances late in the season that showed Nowell’s versatility, including an ability to get to the rim that will be important to him being more than a spot-shooter off the bench.

On New Year’s Day in Milwaukee, Nowell scored 12 points and grabbed two rebounds in 16 minutes, shooting 4-of-11 from the field and 2-of-7 on 3-point attempts as the Wolves lost to the mighty Bucks by only two points.

Then, in the Wolves disappointing loss in Orlando on March 6, Nowell played the whole fourth quarter and put up 11 points on only four field goal tries, making all five free throws that he attempted.

2019-20 Season Grade: B+

Assuming that Nowell’s 3-point shooting at the NBA level will even out given a more reasonable sample size, there’s quite a bit of hope that Nowell could step into a fringe rotation role next season. He profiles as a decent defender and rebounder and an above-average shooter. If he can improve his help defense and get to the rim — and subsequently, the free throw line — a bit more often, he could become an important piece of the team moving forward.

Given his strong performance in the G League and decent NBA performance, outlier 3-point struggles aside, Nowell deserves a B+ for his rookie campaign.

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Here’s hoping for some more opportunities for Jaylen Nowell in 2019-20 after a promising first season as a professional.