Fresh off signing a 5-year, $136 million contract to secure his long-term future with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s safe to say that Jaden McDaniels hasn’t wowed anyone with his play this season. McDaniels has always been a “wild card” since the Wolves drafted him alongside Anthony Edwards in 2020. He’s shown flashes of shot-making ability, high-level defending, and playing off the catch. But it’s essentially only been flashes for the 23-year-old forward. But McDaniels has found a rhythm lately, and through all the frustrations, he’s starting to build momentum for himself.
Ball movement has tended to work in McDaniels’ favor offensively. He’s a much more effective player when the Timberwolves spread the ball around the court. McDaniels can stay spotted up on the perimeter and make shots, but that’s merely a fraction of what he can contribute. Consider his late-game heroics in the 107-101 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Without his three-point make and tip-in late in that game, the Wolves could’ve lost a pivotal game in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Wolves don’t ask much from McDaniels when he’s with the starting five. But he can drive into the painted area and rise above defenders for a shot and space the floor. But the offense becomes much more stagnant when the Wolves aren’t moving the ball. As a result, Minnesota turns the ball over and has poor shot selection. Like many of his teammates, McDaniels doesn’t benefit from this repeated pattern for the Wolves.
McDaniels has also improved as a defender. Defense has always been his strength but hasn’t played to his standard this year. We must remember that McDaniels was considered one of the biggest snubs from the 2022 NBA All-Defensive teams. While he hasn’t helped his case much this season, he’s starting to be the defender the Wolves need him to be. In Minnesota’s 111-90 win over the Houston Rockets, McDaniels successfully guarded third-year guard Jalen Green, who was experiencing his best stretch of the season. Returning to the Thunder game, McDaniels was a factor in Chet Holmgren’s lackluster 4-point game, where he shot 2 of 9 from the field.
McDaniels is also fouling less. According to StatMuse, McDaniels is averaging 3.1 fouls per game this season, the second-highest on the team. But he averaged just 2.6 fouls in January after averaging 3.8 in December. Fouling has been a consistent issue for McDaniels in his career. Therefore, this improvement is promising, considering how much the Wolves rely upon him to guard the best players every night.
Lack of discipline might be the biggest knock on McDaniels. Recently, his intentional foul late in the 108-106 loss to the Orlando Magic put the game out of reach. His poor choice of words after fouling out of the December 30 win against the Los Angeles Lakers led to a technical free throw in a tightly contested game. In the 116-93 win against the Portland Trail Blazers, he forcefully passed the ball to an official after a no-call, which led to a technical foul.
His technical foul count isn’t comparable to Edwards’. But it seems like the coaching staff has made McDaniels aware of ways he can improve his maturity in adverse moments, and he’s steadily trying to improve on it.
It’s also evident that McDaniels hasn’t let foul trouble affect his on-court demeanor. In the past, he often complained about calls and appeared visibly frustrated when things didn’t go his way. Not to say that McDaniels has completely eradicated this from his game, but he seems to have come to grips with the whistle he’s been getting.
Maybe it has contributed to his decrease in personal fouls. Jim Petersen has highlighted that for Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, complaining to the officials often doesn’t help their case. McDaniels still might express his displeasure, but he’s making progress if he can do it in a way that doesn’t hurt the team.
Unfortunately, McDaniels injured his left index finger in Thursday night’s 129-105 win against the Milwaukee Bucks that removed him from the game. Chris Finch didn’t comment on the injury in his postgame press conference, but Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic said it doesn’t seem to be an “overly serious” matter.
The Wolves will succeed more when McDaniels plays confidently and assertively. Opposing defenses will likely attempt to force him and Gobert to be scorers in the playoffs to minimize the effectiveness of Minnesota’s All-Stars. It remains a work in progress for McDaniels, but as one of the future faces of the franchise, his recent improvements are a welcome sight and hopefully a sign of things to come.