Minnesotan sports fans are tough. They are also some of the most loyal in the business. These are the rugged northerners who cling to their prophetic sons, their locally grown hometown talent, and talk about them as if they are their own children, brothers, and sisters. Adam Thielen, Maya Moore, Joe Mauer, Kevin Garnett, Kirby Puckett, and Randy Moss, to name a few.
There is a distinct beauty to this attachment. These players are ours. Distinctly Minnesotan. It undoubtedly gets lost in the glitz and glamor of major markets, especially in the modern era of player empowerment and movement. Minnesota Timberwolves fans are lucky to have a few players to hang on to in these times. Karl-Anthony Towns has and continues to commit to his career in Minnesota. Anthony Edwards‘ planetary magentism has undoubtedly outshined him, but these two are building blocks that stand to be pillars of Timberwolves basketball for a long time.
Jaden McDaniels has a real shot at being one of the next players to rocket into that upper echelon of Minnesota fame. While the talent around him grows, so does his legend and potential. McDaniels put on an absolute show this weekend at the Jamal Crawford “TheCrawsOver” Pro-Am game with other young stars Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren, leading all scorers with a massive 52 points and 11 rebounds. He was, to put it mildly, sensational.
One of the downsides of this locally-grown attachment is the propensity to overrate players or overstate skills. Working in conjunction with the overall skill level at a pro-am game, it is causing many people to gush about McDaniels’ development as an offensive dynamo. Some have gone as far as to proclaim that he will be a future All-NBA player, to mild fanfare from an online community whose platform is entirely based upon hot takes and overreactions.
McDaniels is a highly skilled player who will be a large part of the Timberwolves’ identity for years to come. However, it is time to pump the brakes on the proclamations that he will magically turn into a dynamic scorer, let alone an All-Star caliber player, in just one offseason after a pro-am game.
This isn’t to say that there wasn’t anything to glean from his performance at TheCrawsOver. McDaniels was given the keys to his team’s offense. It was similar to how the Wolves structured their Summer League teams around him. McDaniels responded nicely. He was able to score at all three levels and displayed a seemingly more developed handle than Wolves fans have seen in the past. With his defensive prowess unquestioned, each of the last two offseasons has been catered towards the development of McDaniels’ offensive game.
The end result of this focus is to be determined, and it may be a while before Minnesota sees the fruits of this development. With a healthy Timberwolves roster, McDaniels finds himself as a fifth-best scoring option at best behind Towns, Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Rudy Gobert. Minnesota’s newly-acquired center stands to see an offensive uptick with Russell in the pick-and-roll this season. McDaniels’ place in the starting lineup will be for his perimeter defense, and the Wolves will not ask him to score the ball much. Even on the bench, McDaniels will likely find himself behind Jaylen Nowell while fending off Taurean Prince, Bryn Forbes, and Kyle Anderson for offensive looks. The intent will surely be for McDaniels to pass those players in the pecking order, which will be a welcome step for him to take in his development this season.
It is also important to consider the level of competition and defensive effort that McDaniels played against in TheCrawsOver pales compared to anything he would see in a regular-season NBA game. McDaniels played against Banchero and Holmgren. But otherwise, the exhibition game was just an opportunity for players to showcase their offensive skills without seeing much resistance. It is encouraging that McDaniels was able to dominate the way that he did, as any player with star aspirations should do in an amateur game. However, to think he will get that same space to operate on an NBA floor would be unfounded.
Regardless, it is a good sign to see McDaniels possess the capacity to dominate a game the way he did on Saturday. There will undoubtedly be injuries throughout the season for the Timberwolves, and McDaniels will be one of the first names called upon to lead certain lineups on the floor. There’s a reason that Tim Connelly attached extra first-round picks to the Gobert trade to keep McDaniels. He is a large part of the Wolves’ plans moving forward.
Instilling this confidence in McDaniels will go a long way towards his development and ability to contribute to a winning team in various ways. He won’t be an All-Star or All-NBA caliber player just yet, but this development is all part of the process. The Timberwolves have a great one in McDaniels, and their continued nurturing of his game will help entrench him in the hearts of fans.