Without Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony-Towns and D'Angelo Russell (health and safety protocols), Jaden McDaniels stepped up and took on a much larger role on offense for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his last ten games (through game vs. OKC on 1/5), McDaniels is averaging 13 PPG and 5.3 RPG on 51.5% shooting, up from 6.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 41% FG through his first 25 games this season. In addition to his more efficient scoring, he’s shooting more. He’s averaging ten shots per game in his last ten games, an increase from 6.5 in his first 25 games.
This recent success is what Wolves fans have been waiting for, as they've been excited to see McDaniels’ offensive potential unfold. Plays like this highlight his ability to create his own shot:
However, the last ten games provide a relatively small sample size with a few caveats.
Now that Edwards, Towns and Russell have returned, it’s likely that McDaniels’ 16.9 usage percentage in December and January (up from 10.3% for September and October) drops back down. There simply won’t be as many looks for him with those three back.
No matter the circumstances, it’s encouraging to see McDaniels succeed in a role that’s different from his spot-up shooter/cutter role on offense. However, that’s likely where he’ll be now that the team is back to full strength. Because of that, let’s focus on how he’s done in that role throughout his first 1.5 (or so) seasons.
After 82% of his made field goals were assisted in 2020-21, the Wolves hoped McDaniels could use NBA Summer League as an opportunity to develop offensively, giving him more on-ball opportunities.
“Jaden will be the focal point of the Summer League team.” — Chris Finch on Jaden McDaniels just now w/ @WolvesRadio on WCCO— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) July 29, 2021
Finch also said that Jaylen Nowell will play in summer league — because “we want to increase his role next year” — and that Anthony Edwards will not play
He was (probably) the best player on that summer league team, creating a natural opportunity for an expanded role. He shined, averaging 16.3 PPG.
His summer league role also served as insight into which position the Wolves wanted to play McDaniels at (although this was before Jared Vanderbilt cemented himself as the starting power forward and Patrick Beverley was acquired, shaking up the lineup).
This offseason there were rumblings of McDaniels getting more minutes at small forward, allowing him to use his recently-utilized on-ball skills.
I asked Chris Finch if they're looking to development Jaden McDaniels more as a 3 or 4 this offseason.— Brendan Hedtke (@B_HedtkeNBA) May 15, 2021
Finch mentioned that the two positions offensively are quite similar in the system, but did say he thinks Jaden is someone who can operate as a pick and roll ball handler.
However, his positioning hasn’t changed significantly this year, with him playing only 25% of his minutes at the three (last year he played 22% of his minutes at SF) and the remaining 75% at the four.
McDaniels’ defensive ability and potential remain fantastic, but his offensive skills are still developing. McDaniels is shooting 28.9% from three this season, down from last season’s 36.4% mark. Every single one of McDaniels’ made three-pointers (35) has been assisted this season, while nearly 70% of his two-point makes have been assisted.
Assuming McDaniels is locked into a spot-up/cutting/off-ball role on offense for the foreseeable future, his spot-up shooting numbers will need to rise. He’s shooting 28.8% on corner threes this year (down from 38.8% last season), which is problematic considering that’s where nearly 46% of his three point attempts have come from.
For whatever it’s worth, the Wolves have an offensive rating of 105.2 with McDaniels on the floor. With him off the floor, it’s 111.5.
McDaniels clearly isn’t a focal point of the offense while sharing the floor with any combination of Towns, Edwards and Russell. But even in his off-ball role, he’s becoming more involved. Through 35 games, McDaniels has 270 field goal attempts. Last year he finished with 367.
It’s truly been a season of two parts for McDaniels, with him struggling offensively throughout his first 25 games and then having one of his best offensive stretches during the last ten. With the Wolves now back at full strength, it’s likely we get a version of McDaniels that’s somewhere in between first 25-Jaden and last ten-Jaden.