Jaden McDaniels is growing up right before our eyes. The reserved 21-year-old flashed two-way potential in his first season and a half in the NBA, but McDaniels is blossoming into Minnesota’s fourth star as the Wolves begin their playoff push.
It’s been a strange and bumpy road to get to this point, but McDaniels is finally living up to his potential. According to ESPN and Rivals, the Washington native was the seventh-highest rated player in the 2019 recruiting class. (Anthony Edwards was fourth and third, respectively.) McDaniels was floated as a top prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft before playing a game for the University of Washington. For myriad reasons, he turned in a disastrous freshman season for the Huskies, tanking his draft stock in the process.
The Los Angeles Lakers took a chance on him with the 28th pick in the first round. However, they immediately flipped McDaniels and Danny Green to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Dennis Schroder. McDaniels’ whirlwind tour of the NBA kept spinning when the Thunder included him in the trade that sent Ricky Rubio back to Minnesota.
McDaniels showed versatility early in his rookie season when he scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked three shots in his seventh career game. Wolves fans were immediately excited by McDaniels’ potential as an elevated 3-and-D wing in the mold of Mikal Bridges and Khris Middleton. The hype was real and got maybe a little too crazy during his rookie season. Some fans wouldn’t even consider trading McDaniels for established stars like John Collins at the trade deadline last year or Ben Simmons in the offseason.
But it looked like we were going to see a sophomore slump from McDaniels this year, given the way he started the season. He averaged only 6.2 points per game across the first 20 games of the year on just 26.4 percent from three. McDaniels had a fouling problem, leading the league in fouls per game across that span. Timberwolves fans are used to disappointment, so panic hadn’t quite set in yet. But things weren’t looking great for McDaniels — guys like Jarred Vanderbilt were sniffing around his turf.
In the middle of the year, the season began to stabilize for McDaniels (and the Wolves). Then things kicked into 12th gear for the last month-and-a-half. McDaniels is cooking over his last 18 games averaging 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and nearly a block per game on a sizzling 51/39/82 shooting split. Oh, and the Wolves are 14-4 in those games with wins over the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State State. It’s finally time to turn the page on McDaniels as a high upside prospect and start calling him what he is.
McDaniels is on the cusp of becoming the fourth star for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Gersson Rosas and Sachin Gupta built the current iteration of the Wolves on the notion that Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell would have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Why? Because a coterie of valuable role players like Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Naz Reid, and McDaniels surrounded them. The way McDaniels is playing on both sides of the court warrants his promotion to the big four.
McDaniels uses his 7-foot wingspan to wreak havoc on defense and regularly switch out onto smaller guards. He can defend 1-4 with ease. He’s second on the Wolves in contested shots per game and forms an impenetrable three-headed defensive monster with Beverley and Vanderbilt. In 171 minutes on the floor together, the McDaniels/Vando/PatBev trio only gives up 96 points per 100 possessions. McDaniels is tied for 51st in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR WAR. While defensive catch-all metrics are not exactly reliable, it’s good to see McDaniels’ name among some of the best defenders in the NBA.
In his first 100 or so games, McDaniels was limited on offense to standing in the corner and shooting a few threes per game. As his second season has progressed, he has shown more ability and flash to score off the dribble, giving the Wolves added roster balance that they didn’t have earlier in the season. He still has a long way to go to be a winning offensive player, but McDaniels has shown the tools to impact the 2022 NBA playoffs in a positive way for the Timberwolves.
At just 21 years old, McDaniels is by no means a finished product. He still needs to cut down on his fouls (3.3 this season) and improve his three-point shooting (31.4 percent this season), among other improvements. But he is well on his way to becoming the player Wolves fans envisioned last season. Towns, Edwards, and Russell will continue as Minnesota’s big three. However, come playoff time, NBA fans who don’t follow the Timberwolves closely will realize that Jaden McDaniels is on the cusp of creating the first big four in Minnesota Timberwolves history.