Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said one of the biggest ways the team is going to get better next season is through internal improvement from young players like Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.
But Finch threw a third name into that group, one the Wolves haven't thrown around before when they have talked about franchise cornerstone pieces — Jaylen Nowell.
Nowell, who has a team option for next season, will be entering his fourth season after averaging 8.5 points in 62 games a season ago.
"We saw in short stints out there what he's able to do," Finch said. "He's an x-factor, he's a game-changer. I think everybody needs that. He has the ability to create his own basket, he has the ability to attack switching. He's actually an underrated playmaker."
Nowell earned a spot in the rotation after he helped the Wolves overcome COVID-related absences in late December and early January. He shot a career-best 39% from three-point range and shot 48% overall while averaging 15.7 minutes per game.
One of his biggest obstacles to playing time was his defense, something Finch said he saw improve.
"His defense improved quite a bit from the year before when I came here, particularly his fouling rate had dropped, which was most important," Finch said. "... Thankfully he was there to play when we had injuries or absences for COVID, or whatever. But now we're trying to figure out how to get a role, a more consistent role, for him, and we want him to feel as a part of our young core as anybody else that's here."
The Wolves had liked what they saw from Nowell two seasons ago, but a right tibia contusion derailed his development. He is about to turn 23, still with room to develop as an NBA player.
"We knew he had all those tools," Finch said.
Finch hopeful for Towns extension
When free agency opens Friday, the Wolves will be able to offer center Karl-Anthony Towns a supermax extension of four years and around $210 million. There has always been optimism around the Wolves that Towns would sign the extension after qualifying for it with a third-team All-NBA appearance this season.
Finch on Tuesday seemed to believe working out an extension was not going to be a huge obstacle.
"I think it's all of our hopes, really," Finch said. "We know he's happy. We were extremely happy for him, for All-NBA and the ability to have this extension. I know he worked hard for it. I know he's excited, so I think it'll be a good moment, special moment for him and for this organization."
President Tim Connelly has spoken about wanting Towns to remain in a Wolves uniform for a long time.
"I hope he's here forever," Connelly said. "I hope we have the type of team success that would allow us to look up and see Karl's jersey being hung up in the rafters."