The Minnesota Timberwolves have undergone massive changes in the 2022 offseason, and it’s worth wondering how exactly it will all come together for Minnesota in 2022-23 as they look to build on a promising year. Each week from now until the start of preseason in October, I will be writing about one specific thing for each potential rotation player that I am most intrigued to see in terms of how the team ultimately fits. For last week’s story on Kyle Anderson, click here.
Long-range shooting is often described as a swing skill for young NBA players, meaning it’s an unproven ability that they must display in order to be successful at the next level. Jaden McDaniels is perhaps one of the best — and most crucial — examples in the entire NBA for the 2022-23 season.
The Timberwolves’ third-year forward is the favorite to fill in as the fifth starter this year alongside D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, and there won’t be much room for his offensive creation in that lineup. The addition of Gobert and shift to a two-big starting lineup will make spacing even more crucial, and Minnesota is down a proven sniper after sending Malik Beasley to Utah.
McDaniels’ shot outlook is a bit curious. His 36.4% mark from 3 was a big reason for the excitement around his rookie season, but that mark fell to 31.7% as a sophomore per Basketball-Reference.
Perhaps his rookie year success was a fluke based on a low number of attempts (198) and his worse mark as a second-year player (on 252 attempts) is more representative of McDaniels’ accuracy. Perhaps he simply needs to adjust to receiving more attention from defenses — NBA.com classified over 75% of his 2020-21 3-point attempts as “wide open” as opposed to 66% in 2021-22. Regardless, McDaniels has plenty to prove in this regard.
What McDaniels should be able to do
Unsurprisingly for a right-handed player, McDaniels is most accurate from the left corner. According to StatMuse, he shot a blistering 45.5% from there on 44 attempts as a rookie and dropped to a still respectable 38.2% on 76 attempts last season.
Jaden McDaniels massive corner 3 pic.twitter.com/b7cIZdHECd— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 16, 2022
Expect McDaniels to continue taking plenty of shots in this area, and not just because he’s most consistent from there. Spotting up in the corner offers congruent spacing to Towns and Russell, who take the vast majority of their threes above the break, and keeps defenses honest on the baseline so that Gobert can operate unimpeded in the dunker’s spot.
As previously referenced, shooting on the left side of the court is often better for right-handers’ natural alignment. However, McDaniels swung from wildly efficient (43.5%) from the left wing as a rookie to wildly inefficient (23.9%) in 2021-22. Perhaps this season will determine where he truly falls on that wide scale.
Almost 93% of McDaniels’ career 3-point attempts have been catch-and-shoot looks per NBA.com. His accuracy on these looks did fall from 36.8% to 31.5% over the two seasons, but he is almost exclusively a spot-up threat.
His strong playoff series against the Grizzlies showed that McDaniels can thrive when he keeps it simple. All 20 of his attempts were catch-and-shoot looks, none came outside 25 feet from the basket, and he shot 50%. He even made a couple clutch ones, too.
Jaden McDaniels clutch 3, make that 24 points for Jaden pic.twitter.com/NLGx9cxkSK— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 30, 2022
What McDaniels needs to prove
McDaniels hasn’t had much success from the right corner as a pro, shooting 31.7% over the last two seasons per StatMuse. For comparison, the league average over that time frame is between 38-39%.
You can see McDaniels struggle with his alignment more in this area, and it can lead to some ugly misses. This is perhaps the most important zone for him to improve in because true corner versatility will allow Minnesota more freedom in its offensive sets. As of now, defenses should sag off McDaniels when he’s in the right corner in a way they won’t on the opposite side.
Also, don’t expect McDaniels to be much of a threat from the top of the key. He has taken just 36 shots from that zone over his two seasons and made just 27.8% of them.
The biggest question for McDaniels’ long-term ceiling is if he can add any consistency and volume off the dribble. He made five of his 16 pull-up threes in 2020-21 and six of 17 in 2021-22 per NBA.com. It’s not a major part of his game yet, but he has flashed a smooth gather and the ability to rise into shots.
That stat for last year includes a 5-of-12 mark off one dribble. Even adding a consistent side-step move to punish hard-charging defenders would make McDaniels a lot harder to contain.
There are reasons to believe McDaniels can be a reliable shooter, but the time for him to prove it is now. Spacing is at a premium on this team, and Minnesota needs McDaniels’ defense on the court. For that to be viable in big minutes, he needs to show defenses they can’t ignore him outside.