NEW YORK — When Jaylen Nowell was down on the floor in New Orleans after spraining his left ankle, coach Chris Finch had a flashback to last season.
Like this season, Nowell had been playing well and gradually worked his way into the rotation until an injury — in that case a right tibia contusion he suffered in Philadelphia — caused him to miss 14 of the next 16 games and derailed the progress he was making.
As Nowell hit the floor following a collision with New Orleans guard Jose Alvarado, Finch was hoping this wasn't going to be a similar situation.
"I was worried about that," Finch said. "I was very relieved that it didn't turn out to be that serious."
Nowell missed only one game because of the ankle sprain and was back on the floor for Sunday's 119-99 victory over Golden State. Nowell wasn't concerned about a repeat of last season.
"That was the past," Nowell said. "End of the day, I'm always worried about the next day. If anything, I'm more worried about the future than the past. The past is over with."
He didn't look like he missed a beat in scoring 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting against the Warriors. It continued Nowell's reformation in the past few weeks. Over his past 14 games, Nowell is averaging 12.6 points off the bench while shooting 52% from the field, 39% from three-point range.
Now in his third season, Nowell credited his improvement to enhanced film work and being accustomed to the speed of the game.
"I'm putting more work in off the court as far as watching film damn near every single game, for real," Nowell said. "So I think I'm just really picking up on the game way faster than just going out there and just playing, so I'm seeing a bunch of different scenarios and it's helping me think the game rather than just going out there and try to wing it."
Even when he does film work, his approach to that is different than it was when he first got to the league.
"To be honest, when I was watching film my first and second year, it was more entertainment," Nowell said. "I grew up just watching NBA games for entertainment, so I definitely took a different approach, watching it and studying it as work. I don't look at it as, 'Oh this is fun.' I'm looking more at how guys are getting open, our defensive schemes. I'm watching every team way harder."
Nowell also credited his role as point guard with helping him develop a consistent mind-set no matter who is playing at any given time. Nowell can play on and off the ball but the Wolves have been using him more as a point guard in recent weeks.
"Coming in this year, I knew I was going to play a little bit of point guard. Didn't know I was going to play this much, so I knew I needed to be ready," Nowell said.
Added Finch: "He's really moving the ball well. He's staying aggressive, he's picking his spots. He's not forcing anything. The game's really coming to him easy."
The Wolves were on a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday with trips to New York and Atlanta. Finch was asked before the game for his philosophy about handling player minutes in such a situation. He said he tries to "win the one that's in front of you."
"I think the league overall does an outstanding job of managing player load and minutes right now, so it's not just the back-to-back," Finch said. "There used to be a lot of chatter about how you handle the back-to-back. We break it out. We're handling five games in 10 days and what's going on over the next period of time. We're not too concerned.
"If we have to play somebody a few extra minutes to win the game tonight and it cost us some availability tomorrow, so be it. We'll take the win tonight."