Timberwolves

Jaden McDaniels Has the Motivation To Make Another Leap

Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Jaden McDaniels has an axe to grind. After a superb third season in which the former first-round pick quickly became one of the best defenders in the league and improved as an offensive initiator and shooter, McDaniels is on track for a $100 million payday if and when the Minnesota Timberwolves offer him a rookie extension this summer.

Wait, so why is McDaniels probably in a basement somewhere where there’s still snow on the ground slowly grinding an axe with an expressionless face while going through the Rocky IV Russia training montage workout instead of sitting on a boat in Miami and submitting his resume to become Shakira’s new boyfriend like everyone else?

It all went downhill during the last game of the regular season when Rudy Gobert punched Kyle Anderson. McDaniels one-upped his teammate by punching a curtain with a cement wall behind it that McDaniels passes by every day. He broke his hand in the mayhem and it forced him to miss the playoffs. The Wolves lost their first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets in an easy five games, largely because they were without their best defender in McDaniels, and Naz Reid, who broke his wrist a few weeks earlier.

The other reason for his summer revenge tour is somehow a lot dumber than breaking his hand punching a wall in frustration. Despite a number of NBA players going out of their way to praise McDaniels as one of the best defenders in the league, most metrics placing him among the league’s elite stoppers, and being able to tell that McDaniels is special by just watching the Timberwolves play for five minutes this season, McDaniels was left off both All-Defensive teams the NBA announced on Tuesday.

McDaniels received three first-team votes and 34 second team votes. However, he was only eligible as a forward despite defending opposing teams’ primary ballhandlers on a nightly basis. He finished sixth among forwards in voting behind first-teamers Jaren Jackson Jr. and Evan Mobley, second-teamers Draymond Green and OG Anunoby, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just missed the cut. Immediately after the teams were announced, fans, pundits, and NBA players voiced their shock that McDaniels was snubbed, showing, among other things, that the voting pool for NBA awards isn’t tuning into Timberwolves games as often as people whose votes have contract implications probably should.

It’s disappointing for Wolves fans who have been hyping up their emerging star player all season. It’s even more so for McDaniels, who has mentioned publicly that making an All-Defenive team was one of his main goals this season. Now McDaniels heads into the offseason with a cast on his right hand, a few unanswered questions, and a whole lot of motivation to show up the voters next season.

McDaniels has already made gigantic strides in only three NBA seasons. He’s gone from an elite high school product who had a near-disastrous freshman season at the University of Washington, to flashing upside as a nice young role player during his first season in Minnesota. Now he’s showing real star potential on both sides of the ball and forming one half of the Smother Brothers alongside the face of the franchise Anthony Edwards. Now McDaniels is eligible for a massive rookie extension this offseason that should reach nine figures. After already making a leap every year of his career, McDaniels has the talent and motivation to make an even bigger leap going into Year 4.

Jaden McDaniels has spent the last few offseasons meticulously working on his shooting mechanics, and his work ethic is already paying dividends. He’s improved his shooting and scoring every season and is on the brink of becoming a 50/40 guy. (He still has a ways to go for the 90 if he ever wants to achieve the coveted 50/40/90 season.) Becoming an elite shooter and secondary scoring option who will only be 23 at the beginning of next season is huge for a team that needs its highest-paid players to fill a multiple roles next year.

McDaniels isn’t the only Wolves player who will be motivated to have a kick-ass summer. Rudy Gobert vowed to have his best summer ever after his underwhelming first year in Minnesota. Edwards is eligible for a rookie scale max extension this offseason, and Karl-Anthony Towns will undoubtedly be bandied about in trade rumors this summer once he’s eligible to be moved on July 7.

It’s a big offseason for Tim Connelly and the Timberwolves after last year’s big swing to put themselves in championship contention ended up with a first-round exit and severely depleted Minnesota’s future draft capital. The Wolves will need big leaps from players already on their roster if they want to take the second-best era in franchise history to the next level. McDaniels has all the motivation in the world to come back better than ever in Year 4, and I wouldn’t want to be lined up opposite of him when he unleashes hell on the league next season.

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Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

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