The Minnesota Timberwolves have been put in tough situations to succeed so far this year. It’s been messy, whether it was lead guard D’Angelo Russell missing games with an ankle injury or the team trying to find some continuity with each other on the floor. One way to settle things down is to keep second-year forward Jaden McDaniels out of foul trouble. They need to keep him on the floor as much as they can.
It has truly been a rollercoaster start to his sophomore season, but he still is a vital part of this team on both ends of the court.
McDaniels’ ability to be a versatile defender is the core component of his game. He is already picking up elite perimeter defenders at 21 years old. His length and versatility are critical on defense, especially when considering the people behind him: Taurean Prince, Josh Okogie, and Jake Layman.
So far this season, McDaniels has fouled out three times in the first nine contests, averaging 4.1 fouls per game in his 25.8 minutes per game. Last year, he had 2.7 fouls per game in 24 minutes a game this past season. Not exactly a positive trend. Sophomore slumps are common in the NBA, though. Especially among players who impressed during their rookie seasons.
His increased fouling has stunted his flow into the games. He has picked up two fouls early and often this year. Chris Finch has responded by either sending him to the bench or sticking it out with him throughout the first quarter, creating a Sophie’s Choice. If he gets another foul, Finch has to remove him from the game. Or he has to contest and defend more conservatively, making him less effective on that end.
Creating a domino effect
Let’s look at the first half of the Orlando Magic game, which was a complete disaster for Minnesota. McDaniels started and picked up three fouls in the first quarter. All came on drives to the rim. He fouled Franz Wagner twice and Cole Anthony once, which is fitting given that both players dominated this game.
McDaniels did all of this in the first four minutes of the game. He was subbed out instantly for Malik Beasley, who went on an extended run with the bench unit. McDaniel’s fouls throw rotations out of balance quickly, especially when key players are injured.
The second half wasn’t much better for him either. He picked up his fourth foul four minutes into the half and went right back to the bench. Russell picked up an ankle injury and was out for the rest of the game. The Wolves were left to rely on bench pieces to hold up, and they didn’t come close. Okogie is only capable of picking up defensive duties but cannot space the floor like McDaniels. The same goes for Jarred Vanderbilt, and the Magic used this to their advantage. They went into a zone and helped significantly on KAT. As a result, Minnesota’s worst shooters were chucking up shots, and the game quickly got out of hand.
McDaniels doesn’t only affect the game with his defensive prowess. He is more likely to hit a corner three than most of his teammates. McDaniels’ aggressiveness at attempts to score at the basket has been affected by his propensity to pick up fouls, too. He looks hesitant, creating a chain reaction from those early fouls that makes it so difficult for him to settle into games.
The positives of no foul trouble
There’s a correlation between McDaniels’ foul trouble and the games the Wolves have won and lost.
While the minutes are close, the fouls per game tell the story. McDaniels’ minutes are similar, primarily because he can control himself when the Wolves have been blown out to end games, like against Orlando, and he has been given extensive second-half playing time.
McDaniels is hurting his team by fouling so often. He needs to clean this up in this second season to continue developing. Even if he isn’t a shot creator for himself, if McDaniels can develop into a celebrated 3-and-D player in the NBA, Wolves fans should be overjoyed.