The Wolves Missed McDaniels' Offense As Much As His Defense Against Denver

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jaden McDaniels watched from the sidelines as Jamal Murray found his spots and hit ridiculous fading shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves’ drop coverage. McDaniels was out because he broke his hand punching a wall after getting two quick fouls in Game 82. Murray’s offensive outburst was tough to watch for fans and the team. Even though Nickeil Alexander-Walker did the best he could on Murray, the Wolves really missed McDaniels. Everyone is curious about what this series would have looked like if Jaden had played. While it may have only extended the series out one or two more games, the hole he left was evident.

However, it wasn’t only on the defensive side of the ball.

McDaniels has had a very linear development on offense in his first three seasons, becoming more efficient and upping his points-per-game average every year. He’s increased his points per game from 6.8 to 9.2 to 12.1 and his True Shooting% from 55.2% to 55.3% to 61.1%. Jaden had an impressive stretch post-trade deadline, averaging 13.8 points per game on 52.4/44.4/70.9 shooting splits. He showed how important he is as a secondary player on offense and how he could help supplant the new-look post trade deadline Timberwolves.

Jaden has always had a simple game on offense in the NBA. He’s had a lot of catch-and-shoot threes and used his length to his advantage to score around the basket. We have seen McDaniels take larger leaps in terms of playstyle, too, which has affected his shot diet. He offered a different dynamic than other players on the roster when it came to coming off screens from the corner. He’d also create off the dribble late in the shot clock to find his close-range pull-up floating jumper.

Luckily for the Wolves, these mid-range looks and close-range pull-up shots are efficient compared to McDaniels’ fellow forwards across the league. He’s shooting 43% from four to 14 feet, which ranks in the 63rd percentile. He’s also making 43% of his mid-range shots, ranking in the 62nd percentile. Lastly, McDaniels is in the 80th percentile at the rim, shooting 72%. That was heavily supplanted by his career-high 72 dunks on the season, which was significantly more than his dunk totals in 2021-22 (46) and 2020-21 (32). McDaniels deserves a lot of credit  for his impressive shooting percentage at the rim regardless of the number of dunks due to the fact that many of these shots came from the ball falling into his hands late in the shot clock.

Offensive stagnation was Minnesota’s Achilles heel this year. It happened pre- and post-deadline. When games get more intense, regardless of if it is a tight regular season game against a worthy opponent or the play-in/playoff games, every team needs players comfortable enough to perform.

Chris Finch runs an open flow offense that relies upon players to create consistent organic play for 48 minutes a night. Jaden can be an asset in that offense as a cutter, usually from the corner or the wing. He positions himself to be a pass away from other players who are going to attract more attention and gravity. These facets of his game make McDaniels a perfect secondary source of offense. He frequently does things thave don’t have to be as heavily relied upon nor as complicated.

A reliance on Jaden’s continued development lined up statistically over his first three seasons history. Although unfortunately, a lot of McDaniels’ consistency relies on his ability to stay on the floor and avoid foul trouble. It is not too much of a concern that he ranks so highly in fouls per game because he is entering his fourth year in the league.

Looking forward, not only do I expect Jaden to make more strides as a creator and build on his budding skillset, I trust him from three on his catch-and-shoot opportunities. The Wolves also need someone to drive more creativity on offense.

One of the largest concerns with Minnesota’s lineups with Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert was the lack of consistent, good offensel. Per Cleaning the Glass, the KAT-Rudy lineups had 1095 possessions among many different lineup combinations, but they sat at 107.5 points per 100 possessions, ranking in the 7th percentile. Also worth noting? They had a 17.6 turnover percentage, which is in the 3rd percentile, and a 17.9 free throw rate, which ranks in the 15th percentile.

The Wolves need stability. And if there is anyone who’s going to help supplant these issues and has a higher ceiling to reach on the offensive end developmentally, it’s Jaden McDaniels. The Wolves have found a way to be stout defensively, and Jaden is not going to slow down on that side of the ball. But it’s reasonable to expect him to increase his scoring totals and aggressiveness next season.

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