Minnesota Timberwolves 2020-21 season grades: Jaylen Nowell

Jaylen Nowell of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Jaylen Nowell of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

It’s easy to forget that Jaylen Nowell was the talk of the Minnesota Timberwolves back in February and March, showing potential as a microwave-style scorer off the bench.

Alas, Nowell injured his leg on April 3 against Philadelphia and missed 14 of the next 16 games. He was essentially out of the rotation once he did return, but that shouldn’t overshadow his impressive midseason stretch.

Could Jaylen Nowell enter the 2021-22 campaign as a frontrunner for a key role off head coach Chris Finch’s bench?

Minnesota Timberwolves 2020-21 season grades: Jaylen Nowell

Back in late January, yours truly called for Nowell to receive minutes for a Wolves team that was beyond pitiful when it came to converting 3-point shot attempts.

As noted at the time, Nowell made threes at a 44.2 clip in his final year at the University of Washington and was a 39.6 percent 3-point shooter for his collegiate career. With the G League’s Iowa Wolves in 2019-20, Nowell made 44.1 percent of his 3-point attempts while launching 6.9 tries per night.

While the long-range success didn’t follow Nowell in his limited action with the Timberwolves back in 2019-20, we saw flashes of his 3-point shooting ability in the just-completed campaign.

Nowell was shooting 35.6 percent on threes at the time of his leg injury. An 0-for-6 showing in his first game back was a sign of things to come, as a self-proclaimed too-early return from the leg issue contributed to tanking his percentage on the season, which ended up at a subpar 33.3 percent.

When he was healthy, however, Nowell was a deadly mid-range shooter and displayed an effective floater game. If we can assume that Nowell’s 3-point shooting percentage eventually lands somewhere between the 30.1 percent that he’s turned in over 57 games at the NBA level and the 44-plus percent that he made in college and the G League, then Nowell will be a strong offensive player moving forward.

The biggest problem for Nowell was his defense. The second-year guard finished No. 113 out of 116 shooting guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric, and the eye test confirmed his issues both on and off the ball.

But if Nowell can improve to something resembling average on that end of the floor — how many times have we said that about Wolves players in recent years? — then he will be, at the very least, a playable and likely effective bench wing capable of scoring outbursts.

Given his size and defensive deficiencies, it’s hard to see Nowell as a long-term starter. But, on a team with D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Malik Beasley, it’s not clear that the Wolves need him to be much more than a sixth-man-type scorer off the bench.

Additionally, Nowell is on a bargain of a contract: a non-guaranteed $1.7 million next year and a club option for just $1.9 million in 2022-23. If Nowell can be a sharpshooting, high-scoring bench option with passable defense, he’ll be an absolute steal and one of the better moves of Gersson Rosas’ first few months on the job.

Jaylen Nowell’s 2020-21 Season Grade: B+

Given the lack of opportunity in 2019-20 and the lack of expectations surrounding Nowell entering the 2020-21 campaign, his burst of strong play in the middle of the season was a pleasant surprise.

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Now, the questions all surround defense and all-around consistency. If Nowell can improve there, then we’re looking at a legitimate rotation player on a bargain contract moving forward.