Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels showed out in Game 6 of the playoffs. Although it was in a losing effort, they ended the season with a bang. Ant, 20, and Jaden, 21, showed fans that the future is brighter than ever, giving them something to look forward to next season.
Edwards had an incredible all-around game, scoring 30 points while shooting 40% from three-point range. He also dished out 5 assists with only 2 turnovers in over 40 minutes of play. Ant also played great defense, using his size and athleticism to block Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke as they drove to the lane. He showed he could be one of the hardest-working players on the court in big games, hustling to secure 5 big rebounds and competing for 2 loose balls that turned into steals.
McDaniels was nearly perfect in his silent assassin role. He hit three huge threes immediately after coming off the bench in the first quarter to keep the Wolves in the game when Memphis started the game strong. Jaden proved he can be lethal from beyond the arc, especially when defenders sag off him in the corner. He finished the game with 5 threes on 6 attempts. He also played great clean defense, committing only one foul while swallowing up space and not allowing easy runs to the rim.
Together, the team’s two burgeoning stars were responsible for over half of Minnesota’s points, scoring 54 of the team’s 106. While we’ve come to expect a lot from Ant in big games because of his consistency this postseason, this flash of brilliance from Jaden when the lights are brightest is something new. He was calm and collected under pressure and didn’t let the big moment affect his quiet poise. The maturity that we saw from the second-year players makes me feel spoiled because they have barely scratched the surface of their potential.
In his season exit interview, Sachin Gupta noted that Ant and Jaden “haven’t had a normal summer yet” due to COVID. He thinks this will be a big offseason for them. The pandemic has affected the NBA’s usual schedule since Minnesota took both players in the first round of the 2020 draft. The NBA delayed the 2019 season in an attempt to make the league as safe as possible for players and fans. However, the league then pushed the 2020 and 2021 seasons closer together. As a result, Ant and Jaden had no real training camp in their first year and a shortened one in their second year. Therefore, both players could take an even larger jump than they did last offseason.
What Growth Can We Expect to See?
Edwards’ three-point shooting percentage jumped from .329 to .357 between his first and second year, despite his shooting volume rising from 7.2 to 8.4 attempts per game — a rare feat. Ant said he’ll continue to work on his shooting this summer, stating, “some guys can just naturally shoot, and I’m not one of those guys. I gotta work on it.” Ant’s knowledge of himself seems to be part of why he’s such a fast learner. For someone who’s not a “natural shooter,” to increase their shooting percentage by almost three percent in one offseason is incredible.
It’s evidence of how hard Ant works in the offseason, how much he wants to improve his game, and his ability to analyze his weaknesses. Some guys who come into the league without a great jump shot take years to develop a passable one (i.e., Giannis Antetokounmpo). Others never fully develop a shot (i.e., Ben Simmons).
Finch noted in his press conference that the coaching staff wants Ant to focus on rounding out the skills he already has rather than adding new things to his game. He said he wanted to help Ant learn “when, and where, and how he’s leaving money on the table, be it in transition or turning corners or changing speeds, or using different types of finishing” to guide him through in-game decision making. Finch seems like he will be a great resource in helping Ant learn how to make the right plays at the right time.
This season, McDaniels became a more well-rounded scorer, increasing his points per game from 6.8 to 9.2 while playing essentially the same amount of minutes. He has looked more comfortable taking the ball into the lane when defenders close out on him in the corner, and he has learned how to cut better to get easy dunks in the lane.
Jaden said he wants to work on more on-ball actions like pick-and-roll and put on more weight this offseason, which is music to fans’ ears. Jaden can already guard positions 1-3 very capably. He can defend some 4s but not all of them. Although McDaniels is 6’10”, he is only listed at 185 pounds. If he can put on a bit more muscle mass this offseason, it will help him become a stronger defender in the paint against opponents’ 4s. Many 4s Jaden will regularly battle in the Western Conference weigh well over 200 pounds, like Jaren Jackson Jr., who’s listed at 242, and Aaron Gordon (235).
McDaniels also said that he and Patrick Beverley might train with Kawhi Leonard this summer. You couldn’t ask for a better mentor for Jaden than Kawhi, another quiet player who dominates on both ends of the court with his incredible athleticism and length. If McDaniels becomes even close to the player Leonard is, the Timberwolves will be scary. And that’s not that outrageous of a player comp to hope for either.
Jaden was a top-tier prospect coming out of high school and used to distribute, dribble, and score at an incredibly high level. He and Ant played against each other in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and Ant said Jaden was one of the first people ever to block Ant’s shot. It’s entirely possible that Jaden, like Kawhi, can continue to add layers to his offensive game. He could develop as a secondary ball-handler and elite scorer throughout the next few seasons.
We have yet to see a lot of actions involving both Ant and Jaden. However, we could see some plays developed for them during the offseason. Imagine a pick your poison pick-and-roll between two wings who can score off the dribble and drain 3s from the corner. Choosing between preventing a 6’6” freight train from going straight to the rim and a flaring 6’10” wing who can shoot over almost anyone could be absolutely deadly. In a league dominated by wings, it’s encouraging that the Wolves already have their 2-3 combo of the future set in place. The sky’s the limit for this dynamic duo, and it will be exciting to see how their roles change and grow this offseason.