New Timberwolves sharpshooter Nunnally arrives ready to hit shots
MINNEAPOLIS — James Nunnally officially signed his two-year deal with the Timberwolves on Wednesday, Aug. 8, fulfilling a goal he was in no way chasing.
Nunnally played 13 NBA games during the 2013-14 season before taking his career overseas, but he wasn't fixated on trying to get back to the association.
"I just wanted to be one of the best players in Europe. That was my goal," Nunnally said in a phone interview with the Pioneer Press. "I think things just started falling into place when I focused on my game and getting better and I fulfilled my role on the team I was on."
Nunnally said that 2013-14 version of himself didn't do any one thing "great" on the floor. He knew he had to find his niche, his strength, the standout part of his game he could hone. He found that in his jumpshot. The 6-foot-7 wing spent the past two seasons with Fenerbahce, a Turkish club competing in the EuroLeague. Nunnally was a 3-point sniper, shooting 45 percent from 3-point range two years ago and 55 percent last season. That was enough to catch the eye of a few NBA teams, including the Timberwolves.
Minnesota has sorely lacked a legitimate outside shooting threat for years. The Timberwolves were dead last in the NBA in 3-pointers made (eight) and attempted (22.5) last season. Nunnally feels like he can shoot similar 3-point percentages in the NBA to what he shot in Europe.
"Obviously that's what got me to higher levels and that's what got me over here," the 28-year-old guard said. "So that's what I came to do."
Nunnally wasn't simply a spot-up shooter in Turkey. He averaged 9.3 points a game last season, saying his role was to "score the ball, come in, knock down shots, get to the basket.
"Just bring something different that wasn't (already) on the court," he said. "Whether i started and I was setting the tone or I came off the bench, I knocked down my shots. If I got any open space I was shooting it, and I was shooting it with confidence."
That's all on the offensive end, but Nunnally also prides himself on his defense. He said he guarded the other team's best players and "can be effective on both ends."
"Defense is all about pride and the will," Nunnally said. "I feel like I have that."
That's music to Tom Thibodeau's ears. Nunnally said you have to have "guts" to play for a coach like Thibodeau.
"You've got to be able to grind things out," he said. "There are going to be dog days, there are going to be some days where things aren't easy, but you've got to get through, find a way to get through, and I feel like my journey overseas really helped prepare me for that, and for anything, obviously."
Nunnally said Fenerbahce had six NBA-level players during his time there, but added many talented players overseas seem to get overlooked by NBA teams. And while he admitted NBA teams don't hand the keys to the franchise to players coming over from Europe, those players often star in the roles they're given.
Nunnally thinks there's a reason for that. The European game has shown him the value of adapting to a role. He said many of Fenerbahce's players were the stars of their previous teams, but so many of them, including himself, sacrificed for team success. The result? Fenerbahce won the EuroLeague title in 2016-17 and finished runnerup last season.
"Any one of us could average 20 points on any other team, but would we win games? Would we win championships? Would we be competing to play in the finals every year? No," he said. "So I think we all sacrificed for the betterment of the team ... so I think things translate."
His previous experiences figure to help Nunnally adapt to his situation in Minnesota. While he joins a team in need of shooting and a wing rotation in need of depth, available minutes behind Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler could be scarce. Still, Nunnally said he sees a lot of opportunity with the Timberwolves.
"It's a long season, guys get tired and need breaks during games, he said. "And when that happens, it's time to step up. ... I'm ready."
Asked what Timberwolves fans can expect from him next season, Nunnally said "they're going to see a guy who competes and fights to the end, and that's one thing I guarantee — I play hard."