In 2015 Turkish club Fenerbahce Ulker parted ways with their EuroLeague MVP Nemanja Bjelica so he could come fulfill a role for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Three years later, after shaping himself into a reliable 3-point bomber, the 30-year-old moved on to the Sacramento Kings. However, Fenerbahce have come through with another mature-age sniper for the Timberwolves to sink their teeth into: 6-foot-7 wing James Nunnally.
The 28-year-old signed a 2-year, league minimum deal with Minnesota on Tuesday.
After his 2013-14 debut season in the NBA yielded just 13 appearances between Atlanta and Phoenix, Nunnally made the move to Europe. The five year trip included visits to Puerto Rico, Spain, Israel, Italy and finally Turkey, including an annual return back to the US to participate for a horde of Summer League squads.
After averaging 9.3 points while nailing 54 percent of his field goals and 55.4 percent from outside the arc in 29 EuroLeague appearances last season, he explained what got him back to the big leagues in a recent interview with the Pioneer Press.
“I just wanted to be one of the best players in Europe. That was my goal,” Nunnally said “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.”
With Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins both being known to enjoy a mid-range jumper or two, Nunnally's finely tuned long-range gunning will be a nice change of pace in the Wolves offense. The ridiculous 3-point percentage he put up last year was no fluke either, the former University of California, Santa Barbara standout nailed 45.1 percent of his triples in 2016-17 EuroLeague play and 39.3 percent the season before.
Nunnally exhibits all the telltale signs of a deadly shooter. He is constantly relocating around the perimeter to give potential passers room to find him, his feet and hands are always set in shooting formation, and defenders' hands seem to be nothing but a crosshair that he uses to aim. The Timberwolves' bench shot the 3rd fewest 3-pointers last season, hitting a poultry 34.7 percent of the 7.7 attempts per night, so adding Nunnally's stroke to the mix is a smart move from Tom Thibodeau.
“Just bring something different that wasn’t [already] on the court ... 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.” Nunnally told the Pioneer Press.
The 28-year-old isn't just a shooter though, his ball handling and playmaking grew throughout his years abroad, and he finishes well around the rim with athletic drives and deft floaters. His nice touch is demonstrated by the fact he connected on 52 percent of his 2-point attempts and 89.7 percent of his free throws - Nunnally was clearly an NBA level scorer throughout his Fenerbahce years.
Like Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, Fenerbahce leader Zelijko Obradovic is heralded for his defensive exploits, so you can rest assured that Nunnally knows that he will need to compete defensively if he wants to see regular minutes. According to RealGM, the combo wing has posted positive defensive win share numbers in every single season during his European tour and his defensive rating ranked in the top 50 in both EuroLeague and in Turkish league play.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear Thibs' defense-loving grin from the Mayo Clinic front office.
The list of players who have matured overseas then made their splash in the NBA is countless, players like Joe Ingles, both Bojan and Bogdan Bogdanovic and the aforementioned Nemanja Bjelica all attest to that. If the elite shooting and hard-nosed defense James Nunnally displayed in his NBA exile can translate in his return, he has a great chance to etch his name into that same group of role-playing studs.