McDaniels Is the Key to Unlocking Ant and the Starting 5

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The dreaded month of November is here at last for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the team finds themselves 1-5 six games into the month. One thing we’ve heard from different members of the Wolves roster so far is to wait until things start to come together soon. I can somewhat agree with those statements, this team is far too talented to be playing the way they are right now. However, with every game that passes, this team continues to dig itself into a deeper hole.

That’s not to say this team can’t turn things around. However, guys need to step up and start playing desperately. Fortunately, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels have appeared to do in their most recent games.

“We need to win at this point. We don’t want no moral victories,” Edwards said after Minnesota’s loss in Memphis Friday night. “We need the effort to be there the entire game. We need to come out with a win. Right now, we need to be desperate because we done lost a lot of games.”

With how talented the Wolves looked on paper heading into this season, I would not have thought the team would be in a position to play “desperately” just 15 games into the year. However, that’s exactly where the Wolves are right now.

Whenever a team, whose expectations were high, starts to dwindle early in the season, there are always multiple players and members of the coaching staff to blame. I could go into a rant on everyone who I think needs to step up, but I won’t. Regardless, the starting five needs to be better, full stop. They’ll accomplish higher-level play when guys start letting the ball move freely, not playing hero ball, and establish a hierarchy within the starting group.

When he traded Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz president Danny Ainge knew Gobert’s value and wasn’t willing to let him go cheaply. Therefore, when Tim Connelly and the Wolves called Ainge about Gobert, the first player that came to Danny’s mind was McDaniels.

Ainge really wanted McDaniels, and Connelly really didn’t want to give him up. In response, the Wolves had to tack on two more first-round picks to complete the deal.

Regardless of your view on the Gobert trade as a Wolves fan, I think we can all agree that keeping McDaniels in the Twin Cities was worth much more than those two first-rounders – something he is proving so far this season.

Like the Wolves as a team, Jaden has had his ups and down this year. However, McDaniels looks very comfortable running in this Timberwolves offense and has scored double-digits in 7-of-14 games.

On the offensive side of the ball, McDaniels’ biggest impact will be operating off the ball in catch-and-shoot sets. As seen below, Big-Mac shifts off a Gobert rock-solid screen to open him up for a wide-open stop-and-pop triple.

Although Jaden has improved his ball-handling ability along with attacking the rim. Edwards and Gobert clog most of the paint, so having McDaniels roam freely around the arc will not only improve his game but the others around him.

Scoring a career-high 24 points in a Wolves loss to the Phoenix Suns last week, it’s evident that McDaniels looks much improved on offense. However, his most significant impact comes on the defensive side of the ball.

As a team, the Wolves have not been a good perimeter defensive team, allowing the opposition to attempt 40 threes per game while making 36% of those.

The lack of perimeter defense from his Utah Jazz co-stars was one of the biggest reasons teams played Gobert off the floor in the playoffs the last few years. Aside from guard Royce O’Neal, Gobert was the only defensive-oriented player on the floor most times.

The Wolves have defensive tools. However, aside from McDaniels, there has been no fight or want-to on that side of the ball.

What makes McDaniels the best perimeter defender on the Wolves is his ability to force guys to drive on him while still staying with them. Standing 6’9”, Jaden can defend positions 1-through-4 very well. In the clip below, you see Big-Mac force Ja Morant to his right, rejecting the ball screen and leading him right to Towns, who was in a high-wall set. Jaden then fought over Brandon Clarke’s screen and returned to Morant from the back side, taking down his shot and initiating the fast break.

McDaniels may be averaging over one block and steal a game. However, he has done and will continue to do all the little things, which sets up the offense for guys like Edwards.

It’s a toss-up between Towns and Edwards as to who is the best offensive player on the Wolves. Regardless of your opinion on that, one thing is certain. When Ant is feeling himself, he should always be the No. 1 option.

After starting the season slow and appearing not to have the same passion and love for the game, Edwards looked really good against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night and took some steps in the right direction.

Finishing with 28 points, six assists, and six rebounds, on 10 of 16 from the floor (62%) and 3 of 4 from three (75%), it was apparent that Edwards was on one.

On top of Ant’s terrific play, he saw the floor very well – especially with Gobert. The fit between Edwards and Gobert has been questioned by many to open the season. However, they are both professionals and appear to be slowly getting on the right page.

“I’m starting to learn that I’ve got to time his role, for sure,” said Edwards.

“Just watching film with me and him in the ball screen, that made me realize how he rolls,” Edwards on what he’s done to get on a similar page with Gobert.

Getting on similar pages is a common quote we’ve heard to start this season off. While it may be hard for Wolves fans to be patient after all the excitement in the offseason – things will start to turn around. And if McDaniels can operate the way he has in recent games, that turning point may come sooner than later.

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Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

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