The Minnesota Timberwolves are rarely able to conclude a season with unbridled confidence and genuine hope for the future. History suggests that this is a team that would otherwise perpetually be mired in its own mediocrity. Still, their acquisition of culture-changers Anthony Edwards and Patrick Beverley have ensured that the name of Minnesota will not be dragged through the mud much longer.
The ripple effect of the newfound brimming confidence has had an incredible impact on the rest of the roster. It has been particularly showcased in developmental youngster Jaden McDaniels‘ play. Initially seen as a bit of a risky prospect in the 2020 draft due to “character concerns,” the second-year player showed out in the last game of the season.
The 21-year-old McDaniels poured in a massive 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting and 5-of-6 from three-point range in the Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He topped that off with four rebounds and a massive block. McDaniels’ box plus/minus wasn’t great at a minus-10, but this was still a huge performance from a player who Wolves fans have quickly fallen in love with.
It is a nice cap on what was otherwise an up and down sophomore season for the lanky wing. McDaniels began the year as a starter, only to see his position in that lineup fall due to consistent foul trouble. It was a maddening trend for a player who many are hailing as the next defensive stalwart of the franchise due to his length and ability to guard multiple positions.
Many of his stats improved in 2021-22. McDaniels averaged 9.2 points a game (up from 6.8) on greater efficiency from the floor (up 2%), shot over 20% better from the free-throw line (60% to 80.3%). However, he saw his three-point percentage fall 5% all the way down to 31% on the season. His shooting trended upward towards the end of the year and in the playoffs, though the Wolves will need to see more consistency from McDaniels’ shot if he is to retain a prominent role on the team.
He cannot be entirely blamed for the faltering shot, though. The foul trouble was an increasing problem. McDaniels’ 3.2 fouls per game in ’21-22 was up 0.5 fouls per game from the season before. He fouled out of eight games in ’21-22, up from one disqualification in his rookie year. With that inability to get a consistent spot in either the starting or bench rotation, it is hard for a player to fall into any sort of rhythm.
This was also showcased in the drop in blocks per game, which went from 1.1 in his rookie season down to 0.8 this year. One could make a quip about how the referee offseason handbook included its own chapter for how to officiate McDaniels this season. But the reality of the situation is that McDaniels, much like another star on the Timberwolves, needs to learn how to clean up his game so he can stay on the floor.
After it was all said and done, it was a season full of many learning moments for McDaniels. However, it is fortunate for both him and the Timberwolves to have landed in a prime location that intends to allocate any resources necessary to develop its youth properly. Head coach Chris Finch and the Wolves have showcased this youth investment with how they have treated Edwards, getting him a great mentor in Ricky Rubio his rookie season and then a leader with a different style, Beverley, this season. Rubio gave Edwards the basketball intelligence, and Beverley gave Ant that bravado and killer instinct.
It would appear that Beverley is now going to turn his attention to McDaniels this offseason:
Opportunity should continue to shine on McDaniels in the upcoming season. It is not unrealistic to think that the team will move on from Taurean Prince. The playoff loss to the Grizzlies exposed the dire need for upgrades from Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid, two beloved yet flawed players who have been playing major roles for the Wolves. Great teams have versatile wings that can contribute both offensively and defensively. McDaniels fits that mold to a T. With the correct nurturing and development, he will return to the starting lineup and hold down his position with ease.
McDaniels has the complete confidence of his coaching staff, teammates, and fanbase. This state is eager to see the kind of player that the former McDonald’s All-American can develop into. For once, the Timberwolves are putting the right building blocks in place to ensure that these young players get every opportunity to maximize their potential. Edwards has emerged as the alpha this season. Expect McDaniels to be next on that list for the 22-23 season and playoff push.