Tim Connelly Was Right About Jaden McDaniels

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Connely gave up four first-round picks and five players for Rudy Gobert. But there was one thing he stood firmly against – trading Jaden McDaniels. To the average NBA fan, including extra draft capital to keep a kid most hadn’t heard of was just another one of Connely’s mistakes. But Tim Connely knew what he had in McDaniels.

It wasn’t immediately evident how impactful McDaniels would be when the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him 28th overall. Questions arose about whether his offense would develop in the NBA. Was he strong enough to play? Could he defend without fouling? McDaniels’ five technical fouls during his freshman year at Washington created uncertainty about his temper and maturity, something you would never imagine after watching him in the NBA.

To McDaniels’ credit, he has dispelled most of the issues that plagued him before the draft. As a  result, he’s turned into one of the most surprising stories of the 2020 draft. But McDaniels has entered a new stratosphere this year. His improved offense and elite defense have made it almost impossible to overstate his importance to the Wolves.

Post All-Star Break is typically surrounded by awards predictions, team grades, and player grades. And as far as McDaniels is concerned, anything but an A+ underrates his impact on this Wolves squad. Jaden has proved all of the people doubting if he was worth the extra trade compensation wrong.

Perimeter defense was Jaden’s main skill coming out of the draft, and it’s easy to tell why. McDaniels has held star players in check all season for the Wolves.

McDaniels ranks in the 98th percentile in matchup difficulty but ranks first when looking at Basketball Index’s on-ball perimeter defense metric. BI calculates this metric by evaluating who denies/affects opposing players’ offensive efficiency. And although nobody should evaluate defense only using analytics, McDaniels passes the eye test as the best perimeter defender in the league.

This graph also provides a telling visual regarding McDaniels’ defense

McDaniels hasn’t been doing all his work on the perimeter, either. Whether it’s a skill Jaden has recently developed or playing alongside Rudy Gobert has made him better at it, McDaniels has become a high-level help-side rim protector. The difference in rim protection when McDaniels comes off the floor is unavoidable. McDaniels ranks second in on/off field goal percentage difference at the rim, which passes the eye test.

McDaniels deserves to be recognized for his elite all-around defense, not just in Minnesota but nationally. If he doesn’t make an all-defensive team, he’ll be the biggest snub of the year. But every Wolves fan knows Jaden’s impact on the team defensively.

It’s not just defense with McDaniels, though. He also has underrated offensive ability. Jaden will never be the microwave scorer Anthony Edwards is, but it changes the game when he scores. McDaniels averages 11 points per game while shooting 38% from three and 59% from inside the arc.

McDaniels has played 117 career games. Jaden has scored five field goals in just under half of those (60). In those 60 games, the Wolves are an astounding 39-21. More impressively, the Wolves are 20-6 when he does it this season.

McDaniels’ point total in any game is a good barometer of how good Minnesota’s offense was. For example, in their January 2nd game against the Denver Nuggets, the Wolves beat the No. 1 seed by 13 at home without D’Angelo Russell or Naz Reid. McDaniels scored 21 points on 90% shooting. After the game, Chris Finch said, “(McDaniels) can cut, crash, make a spot three, play off the catch. But if the ball doesn’t move, these things don’t come to life for him. It’s kind of like a barometer for our offensive ball movement.”

Just like his defense, McDaniels offense is critical to the Wolves. But he can’t do either of these things if he doesn’t play. Fortunately for the Wolves, availability has been one of Jaden’s best abilities. Missing only three games this year, Jaden’s toughness has been huge for a Wolves team that has lost so much already to injury.

McDaniels has found a way to affect the game in every aspect now, and he should only improve from here. With his ability to hound players on defense, his upward-trending offense, and his ability to stay on the court, it’s scary to think about how dangerous the 6’9” 189-pound forward with a 7-foot wingspan can become.

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Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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