OKLAHOMA CITY – The Timberwolves had a decision to make this week regarding the contract status of Jaylen Nowell.
The third-year guard had a partially guaranteed contract and the Wolves had a choice whether to waive Nowell or guarantee his contract for the full season. A source said the Wolves are guaranteeing it.
That comes as no surprise. If the Wolves had any doubt whether they were going to guarantee Nowell's deal, he erased all that with his play the past few weeks. No Wolves player benefited more from the expanded opportunity that COVID-19 induced absences inflicted on the Wolves roster more than Nowell, who has taken the opportunity and run with it.
Over the past 10 games entering Friday, Nowell was averaging 13.9 points per game on 50% shooting (36% from three-point range) and had shown his prowess to score from the perimeter, midrange and near the basket.
On a team that often struggles in half-court offense, Nowell is one player who can create offense for himself, and do it at an efficient rate. Over those past 10 games, Nowell is shooting 75% at the rim, one of the best marks on the team, and 52% from the midrange, tops on the team.
"I watch a lot of older players and how they maneuver and got to the rim," Nowell said. "I'm not the most explosive guy. I have a little bit of explosiveness, so I can use that to my advantage. … I've got to find certain ways to get to the spots I want."
His meticulous methods have paid off. Nowell played so well in Wednesday's win over the Thunder (16 points on 6-of-6 shooting) that coach Chris Finch opted to ride with Nowell plus four other starters over D'Angelo Russell, who was struggling to find a rhythm in his first game back from COVID protocols.
Finch has said in order for him to trust a player in the rotation, he has to see that a player will "care" to address the mistakes they usually make.
"I've got to see the effort and the concentration and I've got to see the fact that they're not making the same mistakes," Finch said.
Nowell's obstacle to playing was always defense. He fouled too much, which can also be an indicator he's a step behind on understanding position and schemes and tries to make up for it by fouling his man. Nowell has made some improvement there.
"I don't expect Jaylen to be a high-level defender, but I do expect him to do the basics really well and at a high level and consistently," Finch said. "If you can't do the basics right, it's hard to then trust you.
"When you're trying to shift the culture within the team from just playing the guys who can score to having some defensive fabric, then you have to value that. As a coach, if you don't value it, then they get the wrong message."
Nowell said recently he would grade himself as a "C" defender.
"I feel like I can do better," Nowell said. "I feel like some people tell me I'm playing great defense. I could be. I just know that I could be better than I am today."
Finch said Nowell's self-grade of his defense was "fair."
"He has the ability to be better than that," Finch said. "He's probably never prioritized it in his life to the level that we need him to right now, and that's just to stay at C-plus level."
His offense has been a lot more than that, and it's also why Nowell will be sticking around a while longer.
Beverley sits out
Guard Patrick Beverley was downgraded to questionable before Friday's game and ended up not playing because of right groin soreness. Finch said Beverley's injury was considered "day to day." Beverley missed six games earlier this season because of a left adductor strain.