In comparing the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic is to Karl-Anthony Towns as D’Angelo Russell is to Jamal Murray as Josh Okogie is to… okay, maybe that’s as far as the comparisons go. But Denver and Minnesota are two mid-market teams who depend on drafting well and patient team building to remain competitive. Lately, the Nuggets have been doing a great job of making high-upside picks in the draft, and this year Gersson Rosas and the Minnesota Timberwolves have done the same.
The latest exciting addition to the Nuggets pool of talent is Michael Porter Jr., a 6’10”, 218 pound forward. His dynamic offensive ability and physical tools have Nuggets fans drooling at the idea of how good he could be, but his complete lack of defensive awareness has made it hard for him to stay on the court. He is oozing with potential and Denver’s ceiling may depend on if MPJ can put all the pieces together.
Well, the Timberwolves have found their own version of MPJ in Jaden McDaniels.
McDaniels is a 19-year-old forward out of Washington who stands at 6’9”, 200 pounds, with a 7’0” wingspan. His skill set lies somewhere in between Brandon Ingram and Jonathan Isaac. Now, before y’all get ahead of yourselves, he’s got a long way to go if he wants to be as good as either of those players, but the potential is there. Oh, baby the potential is there.
During his freshman year, McDaniels showed off a surprisingly smooth handle for a player his size. He rebounded and pushed in transition, hitting defenders with crossovers, behind the back dribbles — even the occasional Shammgod.
He showcased an ability to create his own shot at every level. He’s got a crafty hesi-pull-up-jimbo, a long strided euro-step, and an impressive step back all in his bag. He is a competent catch and shoot threat, with enough skill off the bounce to punish defenders who close out too hard.
He also has a quick first step that allows him to beat bigger defenders on the perimeter, and the length to shoot over smaller ones. And he has the confidence and capability to extend his range well beyond the 3-point line.
When Jonathan Isaac is healthy, he is one of the best defenders in the league — McDaniels will certainly never be that. What he can do is use his length and speed to get in passing lanes and muck up the opponent’s offensive flow. His quick feet allow him to stay in front of defenders, and even when he’s beat, he’s got the length and quickness to recover.
He lacks some defensive awareness, but I think that stems from floating in and out of games rather than a lack of understanding of defensive technique. When McDaniels is engaged defensively, he can be one of the best defenders on any team.
Before McDaniels can reach his potential, he’s got some big flaws in his game that he’s got to fix. First, he’ll need to bulk up a bit: He is 200 pounds soaking wet with a pocket full of rocks. Give him a couple years with NBA trainers, and he should be just fine.
He’ll also have to work on his mind as he works on his body. He is incredibly turnover prone, owning a healthy turnover percentage of 20.4. For comparison, Brandon Ingram had a turnover percentage of 13.3 last season.
Part of the reason McDaniels turned the ball over at such a high rate was decision making. He struggles to read the floor and often trusts his handle too much. But he also had the ball in his hands a lot. He was one of the primary creators at the University of Washington, and coming into the NBA he’ll be asked to do much less.
McDaniels’ biggest issue is his foul rate. He often played out of control, which led to him committing 103 personal fouls last season. Among the power conferences, he ranked 7th for most fouls committed. Yikes.
He also has a bit of a hot head. He accrued six technical fouls at Washington, among the most in the nation. Because he occasionally gets caught up in his emotions, some people look at a high rate of technical fouls and see character flaws. I look at it and see an immense passion for the game.
Many of the technicals he received came after ferocious dunks, which I honestly think is really cool. I love the ferocity that McDaniels plays with. That “f-you and your mama, and your daddy, and your second cousin”-type of attitude that is missing from this team. He should pair well with Anthony Edwards who plays with a similar verv.
McDaniels could be an All-Star or ride all-lot of bench. Let me try again. McDaniels could be an All-Star or end up playing in All-bania. You know what, never mind. McDaniels has a lot to work on, but his high upside is exactly what the Timberwolves need if they want to make their way back to contention.