The National Media Is Missing the Point On Jaden McDaniels

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Jaden McDaniels is an intriguing figure on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster. At the University of Washington, the reticent, soft-spoken wing racked up technical fouls at an astounding rate. But while he’s occasionally run into foul trouble in the NBA, he’s become a reliable 3-and-D player for a team that desperately needs one. McDaniels is a bona fide two-way player and arguably was Minnesota’s fourth star last year.

But McDaniels is not the kind of player who draws national attention. Die-hard fans in the Twin Cities may appreciate him, but he’s not going to be the subject of ESPN talk shows or national podcasts. He’s not an effervescent movie star like Anthony Edwards, nor is he a scrutinized max player like Karl-Anthony Towns or D’Angelo Russell. McDaniels is a glue guy, a complementary player built for the modern game.

The rangy wing from Federal Way wasn’t the subject of national attention until he indirectly became part of Minnesota’s blockbuster trade for Rudy Gobert. “This was the funniest,” Bill Simmons told Ryen Russillo on his July 3 podcast. “Woj tweeted how the Timberwolves were elated that they hung on to McDaniels. Congratulations, you gave up nine assets; you managed to hang onto one of them.”

Simmons’ sentiment echoed the kind of thing you’d hear on First Take or national sports talk radio. It’s kinda second-level analysis but not something you’d hear from local media or fans who watch most Wolves games. National NBA media people know who McDaniels is, but they’re probably missing what a core component of the team he’s become. They’re also overlooking an essential nuance about the trade, one that really matters to sports fans in Minnesota.

Minnesota sports fans who remember the Herschel Walker trade worry that history may repeat itself with the Wolves. For the uninitiated, the Minnesota Vikings traded eight picks, including three first-rounders, to the Dallas Cowboys in a three-team trade for Walker. The Vikings believed the running back would make them Super Bowl contenders. Instead, they created the ’90s Cowboys dynasty.

If the Wolves remain competitive until 2029, the four first-round picks and the 2026 pick-swap they traded to the Utah Jazz will be in the 20s. However, if Gobert, 30, declines and things go haywire, Tim Connelly and Co. will turn the Jazz into a monster. Still, retaining McDaniels allows Minnesota to win the trade outright. Losing a core player means there’s always an externality to the swap.

How many picks did McDaniels “cost” the Timberwolves? The reporting is unclear. Adrian Wojnarowski only reported that they were “elated” to keep McDaniels. The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski reported that “Utah was amenable to greater draft pick compensation to leave McDaniels out of the deal.” He also noted that “It is known that the Timberwolves threw more draft-pick compensation into the package specifically to avoid trading McDaniels because they believe so much in his potential as a two-way player.”

Still, the point really isn’t whether the Wolves accurately valued McDaniels. It’s whether or not they should have stepped away from the table once they knew Danny Ainge‘s price for removing him from the trade. McDaniels isn’t untouchable by any means. But he’s a vital part of the roster.

Look at the other players Connelly included in the deal:

  • Malik Beasley is a good shooter but a poor defender. Management also has to be concerned that he spent last offseason in prison. He’s on an expiring contract; therefore, he has been part of trade rumors for a while.
  • Patrick Beverley changed the Wolves’ culture. But he’s 34 and only played in 58 games last year. Minnesota’s roster will still benefit from his influence this year.
  • Jarred Vanderbilt is a scrappy rebounder and defender who can score on cuts. But he’s limited offensively and superfluous with Gobert in town.
  • Leandro Bolmaro was an international player with upside when Rosas drafted him, but he barely played last year.
  • Walker Kessler was an intriguing prospect but is mainly known for his defense. The Wolves drafted him 22nd overall this year, so he’s essentially another first-round pick Connelly included in the trade.

Kessler may have developed into a core player. But he also may have just been a defensively-inclined big Minnesota would pair with Towns. That’s less necessary with Gobert on the roster.

McDaniels is an outlier among the names listed above. He’s part of the core, essential to the winning formula. Does he drive winning like Edwards? No. Is he worth five first-round picks? Of course not. But Ainge may have wanted McDaniels and a couple of picks. Either way, the Wolves have a better chance of devaluing the picks Utah got in the trade with McDaniels in the mix. He’s a cut above the rest of the players they traded in this deal.

The core issue with the Utah trade is that Connelly has historically drafted well and traded poorly. He took Nikola Jokic 41st overall in 2014, but he also functionally traded Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to Utah. In other words, Connelly discovered the foundation of his Denver Nuggets teams in the second round. But he also traded two players to the Jazz who formed their core until he traded for Gobert this offseason.

By trading so many picks to Utah, he’s taking from a position of strength by engaging in an area of weakness. Connelly probably could have found good players late in the draft. He also traded with Ainge. The former Boston Celtics GM hustled the Wolves in the Kevin Garnett trade. Then he turned around and traded KG and Paul Pierce to form Boston’s modern core. Trading for Gobert is a risky trade. But it would have been monumentally more so if he had included McDaniels in the deal.

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