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How Jaylen Nowell earned Chris Finch’s trust, and a spot in the Timberwolves’ rotation

“I don’t really focus on how many minutes I’m going to get. I just focus on the minutes that I do get, to make sure that I go out and be the best version of myself."

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell (4) drives to the basket as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) defends during the fourth quarter Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Nick Wosika / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jaylen Nowell was a key cog for the Minnesota Timberwolves as the team did its best to keep the ship afloat during what coach Chris Finch called their “COVID crisis” over the past few weeks.

The 22-year-old acquitted himself well on all fronts while carrying much of the team’s scoring and creating burden. But with the full roster finally back in tow Wednesday, would the young guard even see the court? So often in the early stages of his career, Nowell was an “only in case of emergency” player. Then, when no longer necessary, he would go back to his spot on the end of the bench.

Frankly, the question of whether or not he would play against Oklahoma City on Wednesday didn’t cross his mind. There were no conversations between Finch and Nowell about as much beforehand, either.

“I don’t really focus on how many minutes I’m going to get. I just focus on the minutes that I do get, to make sure that I go out and be the best version of myself. That’s just worrying about the wrong thing if I’m worried about the minutes I’m going to get,” Nowell said. “Should be focused on winning, and contributing at the end of the day, not about how many minutes I’m going to be on the floor.”

Contribute to winning he did, and in a big way. In the fourth quarter, it was the backcourt of Nowell and Patrick Beverley closing the door on Oklahoma City after the Thunder rallied from a 21-point deficit to make things interesting. For the game, Nowell finished with 18 points on 6-for-6 shooting. He went 3 for 3 from the field in the final quarter to help secure the Wolves’ victory.

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Most importantly, when Finch gave Nowell the ultimate vote of confidence, Nowell rewarded his coach.

“Means everything. It’s a testament to the work I put in on my body and mentally, as well. I watch so much film, so much film. It’s, like, all I do,” Nowell said. “For him to trust me and know I’ll make those right plays at the end of the game, (it’s) everything I’ve ever wanted.”

It’s one thing to step in and be “the guy” in a shorthanded lineup. Nowell has done that before. But Wednesday was a new situation. He was thrust into a situation where he was playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. Finding the balance of aggression without stepping on anyone’s toes is a hard one to strike, but Nowell found it.

“I don’t think he could’ve done a better job,” Finch said.

Contribute to winning he did, and in a big way. In the fourth quarter, it was the backcourt of Nowell and Patrick Beverley closing the door on Oklahoma City after the Thunder rallied from a 21-point deficit to make things interesting. For the game, Nowell finished with 18 points on 6-for-6 shooting. He went 3 for 3 from the field in the final quarter to help secure the Wolves’ victory.

Most importantly, when Finch gave Nowell the ultimate vote of confidence, Nowell rewarded his coach.

“Means everything. It’s a testament to the work I put in on my body and mentally, as well. I watch so much film, so much film. It’s, like, all I do,” Nowell said. “For him to trust me and know I’ll make those right plays at the end of the game, (it’s) everything I’ve ever wanted.”

It’s one thing to step in and be “the guy” in a shorthanded lineup. Nowell has done that before. But Wednesday was a new situation. He was thrusted into a situation where he was playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. Finding the balance of aggression without stepping on anyone’s toes is a hard one to strike, but Nowell found it.

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“I don’t think he could’ve done a better job,” Finch said.

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