Jaylen Nowell

Northwest Notes: McCollum, Nuggets, Thunder, Nowell

Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum saw his first on-court action in over six weeks on Monday, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Having recovered from a collapsed lung suffered on December 4, McCollum chipped in 16 points during 28 minutes of action in his first game back with Portland, helping the team secure a 98-88 victory over the Magic.

“I think this is probably the most happy and at peace I’ve ever been in my life,” the 30-year-old McCollum said, noting that his outlook has shifted following the birth of his first child earlier this month. “I’ve always had a purpose before, but now I really, truly have a real purpose in my life, which is to be a good man and try to raise my son to the best of my abilities.”

In 25 games this season, McCollum is averaging 20.4 PPG, 4.4 APG and 4.0 RPG. His return to the court for the Trail Blazers arrives at a crucial time, as his backcourt mate Damian Lillard underwent surgery to address an abdominal strain last week and is scheduled to miss at least five or six weeks of action.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets head coach Michael Malone discussed the recent right foot surgery of forward Bol Bol and the team’s plans for the NBA trade deadline, writes Mike Singer of the Denver Post. Malone revealed that Bol ultimately opted for the surgery after his trade to the Pistons was scuttled due to medical concerns. “Bol, his representation, once that trade was rescinded because of the failed physical, they felt that it was in his best interest to have the surgery and to address why that physical was failed,” Malone said. The Nuggets’ head coach also acknowledged that the team’s issues with injuries and COVID-19 have impacted the front office’s ability to discern exactly where to make upgrades via trade.
  • The Thunder front office hopes to be install a culture of winning habits despite the team’s less-than-stellar record, writes Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman“You can’t put players in bubble wrap and not expose them to the tough stuff,” said Oklahoma City team president Sam Presti.
  • Timberwolves third-year shooting guard Jaylen Nowell points to his time logged learning from game tape with his improvement on the floor, per Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. “I’m putting more work in off the court as far as watching film damn near every single game, for real,” Nowell said. “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 is averaging 7.9 PPG, 2.0 APG and 1.9 RPG with Minnesota this season.

Timberwolves Notes: Defense, Trade Season, Watts, Nowell

The Timberwolves have been encouraged by their play at the midway point of the season, but they know they still have a long way to go to achieve their goal of making the playoffs, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. The team generally gets along well, which is important because chemistry has been in short supply in Minnesota for many years, Krawczynski notes.

Another major change is the defense has improved dramatically to this point, ranking 11th in the league entering Thursday’s game against Memphis. The last time the Timberwolves had a defensive rating better than 21st was 2013/14, when they ranked 12th. A major contributor to the team’s aggressive defense has been forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

I think a couple of games we tried to change it up and go dropping, but we realized we’re just a better team when we’re aggressive and getting into the ball, being in the gaps, flying around and just making multiple efforts,” Vanderbilt said. “I think that was the biggest change for us.”

Minnesota is expected to be a buyer at the trade deadline, sources tell Krawczynski. The Wolves remain interested in Ben Simmons, but the Sixers haven’t shown any interest in Minnesota’s offers to this point. Myles Turner has been floated as a possibility, but Vanderbilt’s emergence has dampened that notion. Krawczynki believes the team should be targeting size off the bench and more three-point shooting.

Here’s more from Minnesota:

  • The Timberwolves have hired Marquise Watts to become their new chief experience officer, the team announced. Watts previously worked at Under Armour, Adidas, and Klutch Sports Group. Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic explore why Watt’s hiring is a significant move, noting that it’s the first major hire under new owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, who are determined to change the perception of the franchise.
  • Aaron Gleeman and John Hollinger of The Athletic explore how good the Wolves can be this season and what trades they should target ahead of the deadline, among other topics. Hollinger believes Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes could fit nicely in Minnesota if Simmons is unattainable.
  • Guard Jaylen Nowell recently suffered an ankle injury, but participated in shootaround Thursday. Coach Chris Finch said the injury doesn’t appear as serious as the Wolves originally thought, and while Nowell missed Thursday’s game against Memphis, Finch is hopeful he could return Sunday against Golden State, tweets Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.

Western Notes: Adams, Zubac, LeBron, House, Nowell

Grizzlies starting center Steven Adams has entered the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, the team’s PR tweets. Adams had been the only member of the team to play in every game this season, per Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian (Twitter link).

In other COVID-19 news, Clippers center Ivica Zubac has cleared the protocols and is listed as questionable (reconditioning) for Saturday’s game against Memphis, per the Clippers’ PR department (via Twitter).

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • The Lakers have found success with LeBron James at center lineups, and Nekias Duncan of BasketballNews relays that it’s the next evolution of James’ lengthy career. Duncan writes that in 345 minutes with James as the lone big man, his per-36 averages are 32.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists (2.0 turnovers), 1.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks with a 61/41/83 shooting line. More importantly, L.A. has outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions during those minutes.
  • Since the Jazz were only carrying 13 players on standard contracts, there was some uncertainty about whether Danuel House had received a traditional or hardship exception 10-day deal, but Keith Smith of Spotrac tweets that it used a hardship exception. House’s contract won’t count against the salary cap or luxury tax, but it’s still an opportunity for him to potentially earn a roster spot with Utah, as the team is only carrying 14 players on standard deals. He had 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists in 26 minutes in his debut Friday, a 122-108 loss to Toronto.
  • With the Timberwolves shorthanded due to COVID-19 absences, Jaylen Nowell stepped up and earned his guaranteed contract, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Hine notes that Nowell was averaging 13.9 points over his last 10 games entering Friday, while shooting 50% from the field and 36% on three-pointers. Nowell concedes he may not be the most explosive player, but he’s still finding ways to be effective. “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.”

Five More Players Receive Salary Guarantees

The Hawks are hanging onto forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, guaranteeing his salary for the rest of the 2021/22 season, reports Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). The decision assures Luwawu-Cabarrot of his full $1,939,350 salary, which counts against Atlanta’s cap for $1,669,178.

After two seasons in Brooklyn, Luwawu-Cabarrot signed a one-year, minimum-salary deal with the Hawks in September. He has appeared in 24 games so far, averaging 4.5 PPG and 1.5 RPG on .387/.381/.813 shooting in 13.9 minutes per contest. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2022.

Here are more updates on salary guarantees:

  • According to Scotto (via Twitter), Pacers forward Oshae Brissett has survived today’s salary guarantee deadline and is assured of receiving his $1,701,593 salary. Brissett has emerged as a three-and-D piece in Indiana’s rotation since joining the team last April, registering 8.2 PPG and 4.5 RPG with a .399 3PT% in 49 total games (20.7 MPG) across parts of two seasons. The club holds a $1.85MM option on him for next season.
  • The Cavaliers are retaining center Ed Davis and guaranteeing his salary, tweets Scotto. Davis isn’t playing much for Cleveland, logging just 112 total minutes across 12 games so far, but he’s considered a strong veteran presence in the locker room. His salary is $2,641,691, while his cap hit is $1,669,178.
  • The Bucks are guaranteeing Wesley Matthews‘ salary for 2021/22, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Milwaukee decided to move on from DeMarcus Cousins this week, but will hang onto Matthews, who signed a minimum-salary contract with the team last month. Matthews is on the books for a $1,237,494 cap hit and is earning a $1,958,495 salary.
  • Timberwolves wing Jaylen Nowell has received a rest-of-season guarantee, according to Dane Moore of Blue Wire Pods (Twitter link). Nowell, whose $1,782,621 salary and equivalent cap hit are now locked in, is averaging 7.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG, and 1.9 APG in 24 games (13.8 MPG) for Minnesota so far this season. The Wolves will have to make a decision this summer on his $1.93MM team option for 2022/23.

And-Ones: P. Jones, Mac, Clark, Opportunities, Hardship Deals

Perry Jones and Sheldon Mac are the latest players attempting NBA comebacks, agent Harrison Gaines tells Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (via Twitter). The two players will be entering the G League player pool.

Jones was the 28th overall pick of the 2012 draft for the Thunder and played three seasons with the team, last appearing in 2014/15. In 143 career games, Jones holds averages of 3.4 points and 1.8 rebounds in 11.7 minutes.

The 29-year-old Mac appeared in 30 games for the Wizards in 2016/17, holding modest averages of 3.0 points and 1.1 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per contest.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Veteran forward Earl Clark has joined Miami’s G League squad, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. It was reported last week that Clark had signed a G League deal.
  • The opportunities for players caused by COVID-19 absences are no laughing matter, write Jon Krawczynski and Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Krawczynski and Weiss note that Timberwolves players who’d been out of the team’s rotation (Jake Layman, Nathan Knight, Jaylen Nowell) or out of the NBA (Greg Monroe) are trying to make the most of their newfound minutes. “I’m not quitting,” Monroe said. “I believe I belong in the NBA. So I’ll just come out and play wherever it is, as hard as I can.”
  • Michael Scotto of HoopsHype takes a behind the scenes look at what it’s like for players on hardship deals. Scotto spoke to Brandon Knight, Lance Stephenson and Joe Johnson about their new NBA opportunities.
  • There was a slight change to the NBA’s COVID-19 isolation rules for players outside of a team environment, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. The change has no bearing on a return to team activities, so players who enter the health and safety protocols will still be required to remain away from the team for six days, unless they return two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

Northwest Notes: Ainge, Jazz, Hyland, Nowell, Wolves

Jazz owner Ryan Smith pitched Danny Ainge on the idea of taking on a role with the franchise during a recent trip to the Bahamas for Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge golf tournament, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon. The two men had discussions during the trip about the concept of Ainge coming aboard, then worked out a deal when they returned to Utah, resulting in the Jazz hiring Ainge as their CEO and alternate governor.

“I’ve never been ready to talk about this before, but Ryan and I had a chance to spend a lot of time together,” Ainge said, explaining that he took the last six months to spend time with family and decompress. “We hashed it out, and we were both excited about this opportunity. I think it was the timing more than anything.”

Ainge will oversee Utah’s basketball operations and will work closely with general manager Justin Zanik, who will continue to run the day-to-day operations. As Eric Walden and Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune write, the team is enthusiastic about the idea of a “collaborative” approach to the front office and isn’t all that interested in establishing a linear hierarchy in which one person ultimately makes all the decisions.

“If you’re in the league, everyone knows to call Justin right now. I think that’s pretty clear,” Smith said. “(But) I think when it comes to decision-making, we’re the kind of culture where it doesn’t really work that way. … When it comes to that, you want to be right a lot more than you’re wrong, because some decisions aren’t clear. Bringing Danny on board helps increase our chances of getting that right.”

Sources close to Ainge told Tony Jones and Jared Weiss of The Athletic that the veteran executive always wanted a Jerry West-type role that would give him the flexibility to play plenty of golf and spend time with his grandchildren. He’ll work with the Jazz every day, but won’t be putting in the 16- and 18-hour days that he became accustomed to in Boston.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Dan Clayton of Salt City Hoops, writing for The Salt Lake Tribune, provides a trade primer for the Jazz, examining the team’s needs, expendable assets, and possible targets.
  • Nuggets guard Bones Hyland was held out of Wednesday’s game for a violation of team rules, but will be available on Friday in Atlanta, according to reports from Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports and Mike Singer of The Denver Post (Twitter links).
  • Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell has been out of the rotation for most of the season, but has appeared in the last there games and logged a season-high 15 minutes last Friday. Nowell is hoping that he can carve out a more regular role, as Chris Hine of The Star Tribune writes. The stakes are particularly high for the 22-year-old, whose 2021/22 salary still isn’t fully guaranteed.
  • Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic takes an in-depth look at the chemistry that’s developing between the Timberwolves‘ two young franchise cornerstones, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns. “If me and KAT just lock in here with each other, I feel like we will win so many more games,” Edwards said of his star teammate. “… He dominates, man. He can shoot, he can drive, he can pass, he can do everything. So playing with him makes my game a lot easier.”

Northwest Notes: Nowell, Towns, Maledon, Rivers

Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell had a rough time coming back from a right tibia contusion suffered on April 3, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune details. He tried to come back 10 days later and shot 1-for-14 from the field in two games. After taking some time off, Nowell returned on Friday and saw 25 minutes of action on Sunday against Orlando.

“It affected my shot the most,” he said. “I was really shooting off one leg and trying to come back, I came back a little too early; I came back when I was still hurting.”

Nowell, the team’s 2019 second-round pick, has a non-guaranteed $1.78MM contract for next season.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns will remain with the Timberwolves long term if the franchise continues to add quality pieces, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic speculates in an interview with Hoops Hype’s Michael Scotto. ‘Ultimately, what it comes down to is will the Timberwolves put a winning team around Towns? If they don’t, eventually, he will go. If they do, I think he’ll stay for a long time,” Krawczynski said. “I don’t think that this summer is the be-all and end-all for it. I think he’s got one more year at least of seeing how this is all going to work out.”
  • Rookie Theo Maledon finds himself in a much different role with the Thunder than when he began the season, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman notes. With many players injured or sitting out, Maledon has become more of a scoring guard. “The injuries and the new guys on the roster forced me to be that kind of guy, be more aggressive and have more opportunity to create for me and my teammates,” he said. The early second-round pick has averaged 12.4 PPG since the All-Star break.
  • Austin Rivers has learned to become more of a team player, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes. Rivers, who signed a rest-of-the-season contract with the Nuggets late last month after completing a 10-day deal, has scored 55 points over the last three games while receiving extensive playing time. “When you have a fresh start like (in Denver) … and then you just stop trying to put so much emphasis on yourself,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest difference in my game right now and just my approach as a player. I’ve given myself to the team. Whether I play 35 minutes or five minutes, I’m going to be positive as hell.”

Western Notes: Rubio, Edwards, McCollum, Nowell, Thompson

Timberwolves veteran Ricky Rubio praised rookie teammate Anthony Edwards and his toughness during the highs and lows of the season so far, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes.

Edwards, who was drafted by the team No. 1 overall last year, has shown flashes of potential during his first campaign. The 19-year-old is currently holding per-game averages of 15.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 38 contests, though he’s shooting just 38% from the floor.

“When you’re young, every game and every situation it seems like it’s the end of the world sometimes when it’s not working,” Rubio said. “But his character is special. I said it from day one, I think we have a gem here. We have something that — he’s going to be really good in this league.”

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference tonight:

  • Blazers star CJ McCollum is hoping to return next week from a broken left foot, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. “Friday’s workout went well; how I expected it to go,” McCollum said. “I’ll be back soon, as long as everything continues to go the way it’s been going.” McCollum, who has averaged 26.7 points per game in 13 contests this season, has been sidelined since January 16.
  • Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell received an expanded role in the team’s game against the Blazers on Saturday, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes. Nowell scored 17 points and grabbed four rebounds in the loss, playing the final minutes despite starting the contest on the bench. “I’m just focused on being aggressive whenever I catch it, making sure I can make a play,” said Nowell, who recently spoke to our Ben Stinar about his impressive season to date. “The one difference that I might say would be when I’m initiating offense, making sure I get guys in spots, making sure I keep the ball moving, making sure the ball doesn’t get stagnant. That’s probably the only difference when I’m in with that second unit rather than the first.”
  • Warriors star Klay Thompson hopes to return early next season from a torn Achilles’ tendon, as relayed by The Athletic. “Definitely. Could be a few weeks after [opening night]. Could be a month after,” Thompson acknowledged. “But definitely geared toward early in the season.” Thompson is a five-time All-Star and hasn’t played since June of 2019 due his Achilles’ injury and a torn ACL.

Jaylen Nowell Talks Career Night, Coaching Change, More

After playing limited minutes as a rookie, Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell has established himself as a regular rotation player in his second professional season. But the 21-year-old still remembers his “welcome to the NBA” moment, when he went up against Russell Westbrook during the last game of Minnesota’s 2019/20 season.

“He was one of my favorite players in the league,” Nowell told Hoops Rumors in a phone interview. “Ended up guarding him and once that happened and once that happened in my head while I’m guarding him, I’m like, ‘Wow this is crazy I’m really going against this dude that I’ve been watching on TV for years now.’ I’d say that was my welcome to the NBA moment for sure.”

While fighting to earn more playing time in his second season, Nowell has adjusted to new protocols and routines both during and between games, as the NBA navigates the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been really crazy,” Nowell said of the 2020/21 campaign. “I actually forgot at a certain point that this is not how the regular NBA is.”

Nowell, who is averaging nearly 10 points per game this season, enjoyed a career night on Thursday in New Orleans to begin the second half. The 2019 second-round pick scored 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 shooting from three-point range, adding six assists and five rebounds — and he did it all off the bench in just 28 minutes.

“It felt great,” Nowell said. “I felt really comfortable out there. I was bringing the ball up a lot, initiating the plays, so I kind of got to get into a rhythm without even shooting it.”

The performance came in a 135-105 victory over the Pelicans, which was the Timberwolves’ first win in nearly a month.

“That was amazing,” he said. “I honestly forgot what it felt like to come back to the winning locker room. It was definitely something we needed and to have it the first game after the All-Star break, it’s amazing. Hopefully we can keep this going.”

Last weekend’s All-Star festivities provided a much-needed break not only for a Timberwolves squad that had lost 13 of its last 14 games, but also for Nowell, who traveled to Seattle to see his family.

Before the break, the Timberwolves made a drastic in-season move, firing head coach Ryan Saunders and replacing him with Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch. While that sort of shake-up would throw some second-year players for a loop, Nowell isn’t unfamiliar with adjusting to a coaching change, having experienced one during his college recruitment process. Lorenzo Romar, the coach who recruited him to the University of Washington, had been replaced by Mike Hopkins by the time he began his college career.

“I’m kind of used to it,” Nowell said. “I wasn’t playing there, but it was a coaching change nonetheless. It was the year before I came in, so I was affected by it. I’ve dealt with it before.”

When Finch was hired, he spoke about simplifying and streamlining the Timberwolves’ schemes. According to Nowell, the team isn’t running a lot of plays and has been relying on the players to make more reads.

“We’ve been getting to show off our skills,” he said. “Not just for me individually, but as a team. It’s making us complement each other’s game more.”

Even though the Wolves have the youngest roster in the NBA, they possess an exciting mix of max-contract players, vets and youth. Nowell grew up watching a lot of the guys he now calls teammates.

“I used to watch guys like Ricky Rubio, Ed Davis, KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns), D’Angelo Russell,” he said. “I used to watch all these guys before I was even in the league. To call them my teammates, that’s already an accomplishment in itself. That’s been great, and being able to actually be around them and talk to them and see how they work and see how they approach the game that’s been great for me. I’ve just been watching and learning and trying to absorb everything and anything from them.”

Nowell has learned up close from Russell by watching the way he plays during games and by talking to him one-on-one.

“He’s an All-Star, so whatever he’s doing, it’s right,” Nowell said of Russell. “Every single game I’ve been watching how he picks spots; when he decides to shoot; when he decides to move the ball. I’ve been talking to him one-on-one about the point guard, how to facilitate, how to get guys in spots to put them in the best position for them to score not just myself.”

Nowell, who wants to continue to facilitate the ball at a high level by getting his teammates involved, believes the Timberwolves are making fewer mistakes than they did at the beginning of the year and envisions a strong finish to the team’s season. At 8-29, there’s nowhere for Minnesota to go but up.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwest Notes: Muscala, MPJ, Lillard, Blazers, Wolves

Veteran forward/center Mike Muscala has been a regular, reliable rotation player for the Thunder so far this season, averaging a career-high 9.7 points per game to go along with 3.8 RPG and a .368 3PT% in 34 games (18.6 MPG). However, he received a DNP-CD in the team’s first game of the second half, with youngsters Aleksej Pokusevski and Moses Brown inserted into the rotation following their time in the G League.

“It took Mike out of the rotation, but Mike’s a pro and he’ll stay ready,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said. “Those conversations with Mike are easy, and he makes it easy because of how professional he is.”

It was just one game, but both Pokusevski (14 points, eight rebounds) and Brown (eight points, 12 rebounds) looked good, and there’s no reason to expect the rebuilding Thunder to dial back their young players’ minutes the rest of the way. A playoff team may have more use for a low-cost bench player like Muscala, so he’ll be worth keeping an eye on as the March 25 trade deadline nears.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. will be eligible for a rookie scale extension during the 2021 offseason, and ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link) says he’d be shocked if Porter’s representatives don’t open negotiations with a “max or nothing” stance. That looming payday is one reason why Denver may be wary of taking on much long-term salary in trades, Lowe notes.
  • Despite Damian Lillard‘s repeated insistence that he wants to spend the rest of his career in Portland – and the contract extensions he has signed to back up that stance – it sometimes seems as if everyone wants him to seek a title elsewhere, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com, who explores why that’s the case and what a title with the Trail Blazers would mean for Lillard and the franchise.
  • In his list of players returning from injuries who could impact the playoff race, Matt Eppers of USA Today has Trail Blazers teammates CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic sharing the top spot. Neither play was active on Thursday, but they’re both believed to be close to returning.
  • After a dismal first half, the Timberwolves got off to a promising start in the second half, with young building blocks Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell playing key roles in head coach Chris Finch’s first win on Thursday, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.