On June 28, just a few days before NBA free agency began, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch was speaking about the team's need to develop the young talent it had on the roster.
Usually that meant Finch was talking about the two young players who see the most minutes: Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.
But during those comments, Finch threw in another name unprompted into that discussion — Jaylen Nowell.
"One thing we know for sure is that the internal development of Ant and Jaden and Jaylen, those three guys in particular, will be the single biggest driver of how far we can go next year before we do anything else," Finch said then.
A few days later, it became clear why Finch was so focused on Nowell's growth. The Wolves traded several reserves in the deal to land All-Star center Rudy Gobert from Utah. One of those players was guard Malik Beasley, the fill-it-up option who was the Wolves' best scorer and volume shooter off the bench.
If there was a direct line to more playing time for Nowell, who is entering his fourth season, it would be to fill that role Beasley left.
"With the trade that happened, it definitely opened up a lot of opportunity for me," Nowell said. "It's my job to make sure I don't take that for granted, I continue to get better as a player, and whenever I get on that court just be the best version of myself."
The best version of Nowell is an efficient scorer who can create his own shot while playing decent enough defense so that he isn't a liability on that end of the floor.
He averaged 8.5 points in 15.7 minutes per game last season, shooting 39% from three-point range on 2.6 three-point attempts per game. Nowell had a 48% field-goal percentage in isolation. That mark was third on the team behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell.
The revamped Wolves bench doesn't have much in the way of individual shot creation. Players are either more defensive-minded, such as Kyle Anderson or Austin Rivers, or get their shots off the creation and ball movement of others, such as Taurean Prince and Bryn Forbes.
Nowell is also in a contract year, so the opportunity for more playing time lines up nicely with his opportunity to make more money a year from now in unrestricted free agency. Is that in the back of his mind?
"I definitely just try to keep that to the side," Nowell said. "Because I think if I'm focusing on that, I'm not doing my part as a teammate. So, you know, obviously it's coming up. It's just part of this business, but at the end of the day I'm focused on this year and how good we can be this year. I just want to be the best teammate and be the best player I can be so we can all succeed."
Finch has said Nowell's role is to be an "X-factor" off the bench and while that wasn't different from what he was doing before, the path to more playing time is there now.
"He's done that for us in the past, but now we'll have a consistent role for it," Finch said. "Where before we had depth there, it was hard to get him consistent minutes. It was more situational. But he's played himself into that, and so far, he looks pretty good."
The Wolves will need him to be at least that if they are going to have consistent scoring off the bench.
"I'm happy to accept that challenge," Nowell said. "I've been put through a lot, just point blank, throughout my three years here. So, I'm definitely up for that task, not only physically but mentally. I'm very excited to have this big role coming in this year."
KAT working way back
Karl-Anthony Towns, who hasn't practiced this camp because of a non-COVID-19 illness, attended fan fest but was not in uniform. Coach Chris Finch said the team was hoping Towns would begin "low-level" basketball activities early next week.