Many rookies come into the league with both anticipation and expectations. We saw this last season with Anthony Edwards. He relished the limelight and became the shining gleam of hope for the franchise.
On the other hand, Jaden McDaniels entered the league without much fanfare but with a lot of raw potential. Matching his quiet persona, we did not expect much from him early in his career. Any sort of impact was seen as learning and potential.
That quickly changed. The Minnesota Timberwolves needed a spark from the wing, and then-coach Ryan Saunders decided to plug McDaniels in. Jaden only had a blowout run coming into this game, so there was still a lot of unknown with him. That quickly changed. All of a sudden, he had earned roughly 20 minutes off the bench and a starting role down the stretch.
McDaniels emerged as a 3-and-D player every team covets. He used his length to guard on-ball, affect passes and shots, and shot 40.3% from the corner three. McDaniels looked poised for a second season of improvement based on those core traits, but it’s not always that easy.
The start of the season is always vital. The Wolves had new personnel and coaching and wanted to figure out what works best. McDaniels held onto his starting role to begin the season. But as a result of his play and the team’s record, it became evident that change was needed. Chris Finch sent him to the bench, where he has carved out a role.
The bench unit gives him more opportunities to be more than a corner man and higher defensive roles. His play improved almost immediately.
He’s gotten back on track since coming off the bench while he isn’t shooting 36% from three like in his rookie year. Sophomore slumps are real. Teams have more tape on your game and will play you accordingly. The players who last in the league adjust their game while others struggle. Despite his inconsistent second season, McDaniels is doing many things right.
Expanding His Game
The most significant development of McDaniels’ sophomore season so far has been his ability to attack off the dribble, get to the rim, and take advantage of his length for easy finishes. It’s something we saw him work on extensively during Summer League when McDaniels was allowed to create more. His ability to get to the rim has helped immensely when defenders close out hard, knowing that he can hit the corner three.
His game matches perfectly with the modern NBA philosophy of shooting threes or layups. McDaniels rarely sprinkles in a mid-range shot and takes most of his shots from high-percentage areas.
Per Cleaning the Glass, McDaniels ranks in the 16th percentile of corner threes this season and has planted himself in the 74th percentile at the rim this season. He has shot 68% at the rim because of his dunks and finesse layups.
The best trait about his shot selection with these is he only drives hard if it is a favorable matchup or wide open; McDaniels rarely forces it. As a result, teams are not always expecting him to explode off the catch and run towards the rim. Jaden usually has a weaker defender on him as they gameplan for him to be standing in the corner/wing area on offense and not being involved much.
McDaniels still has unreal body control for a 6’10”, 185-pound forward. As he works on his coordination and adjusts to the NBA game, we can see a lot of his issues slowly vanish. That includes his fouling issues. He currently ranks sixth in the league in fouls per game in only 26 minutes of play. He also ranks in the 10th percentile in the league in foul percentage, fouling an opponent on 5% of the opponent’s offensive possessions.
Much of this is because of his frame. McDaniels gets bodied by larger players, forcing him to collapse into them and fouling over the top. If he can work on his core strength and add weight, he can limit these fouls. Jaden’s frame and his massive wingspan will always make it look as if he is fouling more often.
His fundamentals on walling straight up are already solid, and he does a fantastic job being a reactionary defender with excellent recovery technique chasing down rim attacks from behind.
If McDaniels can continue to embrace the fundamental side of the defense while working on his all-around offensive game, the Wolves have a high-quality role player/solid starter on their hands.
McDaniels’ shooting has tailed off this season, and there has been some panic within the Wolves fanbase, but it is nothing to worry about. He was the 29th pick in his class, has developed incredibly well for a raw prospect, and he fits exceptionally well around current roster pieces. We should be optimistic about McDaniels, and hopefully, we can see all the puzzle pieces come together.