As members of the 2020 NBA draft class continue to ink their rookie extension contracts, the forecast becomes more expensive for the front offices and players who watch the hourglass sand dissipate on their negotiations before the 2023-24 season begins.
The San Antonio Spurs locked in Devin Vassell to a rookie scale extension of five years and as much as $146 million just days ago. Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Desmond Bane and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ own cornerstone Anthony Edwards signed the Designated Rookie version of the extension, which could push up to more than $200 million over five years if the right awards and incentives click this season.
If you were to redraft the 2020 class, the only argument to make for the players that have been as good as or better than Jaden McDaniels are all listed above. Nobody else — save for the confusing move Detroit made to extend Isaiah Stewart for $60 million within the throes of three other young big men on their roster — has signed a second deal from that entire 60-player pool. McDaniels is the logical next domino to fall. And whatever the bottom line on that paperwork is will be worth it.
I haven’t been the only person to rave about Jaden’s ability and potential, specifically over the last season. Some of the best players on both ends of the court have recently discussed McDaniels’ defensive prowess and high ceiling.
Paul George: “One of the guys that are ultra talented, that isn’t probably on everybody’s radar, is Jaden McDaniels in Minnesota. He got game. Great defender, good feet, quick hands.”— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) March 13, 2023
Game recognizes game. pic.twitter.com/QD5ldwuv76
"Jaden [McDaniels] is like Mikal [Bridges]. He was a defender for the team but he could go to a different team, emerge and go crazy— be a star. It's all situational, what team you on and stuff like that."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) September 19, 2023
(via "Run Your Race", @TidalLeague) pic.twitter.com/dJ8vVyP5Gu
Relying On His Offense
The Timberwolves have a special offensive tool on their hands in McDaniels. Don’t let the counting statistics pull you into a loop of doubt about his production. Last season, he produced more than 1.0 points per shot on eight of the nine shot types documented in Synergy; that versatile efficiency placed him in the 81st percentile in the entire NBA. The low-maintenance avenues to Jaden’s scoring — at the moment as an excellent tertiary option — will only increase the team’s ceiling offensively.
Everyone wants to define improvement on offense as becoming a better isolation creator. But that’s not the type of player every team needs, especially when that team already employs Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns. We’ll get to those fun iso-type clips that Jaden displayed last season (and are still valuable in certain situations), but synergizing Jaden’s off-ball skills into the Minnesota starting lineup’s eternal offensive puzzle is what I believe makes him as valuable as ever.
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Late in the season, the Wolves got Karl-Anthony Towns back on the floor and had to once again decipher how to optimize him and Rudy Gobert together. Gaining Mike Conley at the trade deadline certainly helped initiate a more decisive offense. As Dane Moore explained in a recent podcast highlighting the Timberwolves big men and how the Twin Towers can succeed together with certain play types, this top-down look to attack switches on pick-and-roll seems to be a simple and effective answer to the Towns/Gobert question mark.
So what does Jaden matter to that issue? The point is he’s dangerous if you leave him in order to stop that interior pressure. Watch how Gobert’s paint touch on the pick-and-roll switch gets Cam Johnson to cover down in help, and McDaniels has his feet set for his best perimeter look, a corner three-pointer.
Jaden shot 39.1% on catch-and-shoot attempts from beyond the arc last season. I don’t see that number going down anytime soon with how much attention the rest of the starting lineup will attract in the paint or on the ball-side of the play. McDaniels fits anywhere you slot him, and that leaves one less variable for Head Coach Chris Finch to account for in offensive scheme.
Take Jaden as a cutter. Offense, at any level of basketball, is always more effective if you have smart, athletic and timely cutters. They can’t be accounted for consistently in any rotational defense that puts two on the ball or has help defenders with eyes on the main action.
Jaden shot 33/40 (82.5%) on basket cuts last season. Notice in the handful of clips above that they come from all directions and offensive shapes.
Cutters are malleable to any offensive identity. We’ve all wrestled with Finch’s “flow” style butting heads with having two big men on the floor at all times. Rudy Gobert’s greatest skill is setting ball screens, something the Wolves didn’t play with before acquiring Gobert, and certainly didn’t have the personnel for top-to-bottom.
McDaniels’ cutting instincts fit into both schemes. He’s always moving to the rim when his defender gets caught up on something else across the court. He can get behind defenders that collapse on Rudy’s roll. He can slip down screens and split actions. He can flat-out beat an overplaying opponent on the wing. There’s not much he can’t provide with his length, twitchiness and soft hands.
Now, to those creation scoring scenarios. McDaniels won’t be called upon as much to create one-on-one, but he does have a knack for making things happen off the catch against a closeout defender. He shot 45.1% on two-pointer dribble jumpers, per Synergy, good for 1.03 points per shot. He even showed some promise running off of dribble handoffs, taking advantage of Gobert’s screening ability to attack drop coverage.
Jaden’s length and quickness, along with improved ball-handling and midrange shooting touch, make him an unpredictable on-ball threat. He’s herky-jerky and smooth all at once. He takes up vertical slack against a defender extremely quickly and mostly under control.
I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: McDaniels’ ability to occupy weak-side driving lanes that open up on kick-out and skip passes from creators like Edwards and Towns makes him absolutely lethal.
The Defensive Malleability
McDaniels’ defense is even more versatile than his offense, and that fact alone makes him worth nearly a blank check. It’s been reiterated so many times I don’t have a whole lot else to add.
Jaden McDaniels + Anthony Edwards game-winning defense on Luka Doncic + Kyrie Irving pic.twitter.com/aFdbZtvnGC— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) February 14, 2023
This is literally what you pay your players big money to do: shut down the opposing team’s stars in the biggest moments of the most important games. And it’s not some pseudo-star we’re talking about — it’s Kyrie freaking Irving and Luka gosh-darn Dončić.
The perimeter and the paint are on lockdown with Jaden McDaniels out there. According to NBA Stats, of all non-centers that played more than 70 games in 2022-23, Slim was fourth in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage on two-pointers, with a 49.8% mark. Only Isaac Okoro, Draymond Green and Torrey Craig were better on that individual level.
Despite his wiry frame, McDaniels can body up with the most physical of wing scorers, as seen above. His wingspan can cover for taking contact inside the restricted area, still forcing off-balance or contested shots. His feet are never out from under him. Plus he’ll continue to gain strength as he enters his physical prime.
Every team’s looking for a big wing scorer. The next thing on their wish list is someone who can guard a big wing scorer. Jaden McDaniels fits the bill. Any talks of “waiting on his potential to come through” should be put to rest by how he guarded the most potent point producers in the league last year in a dominant fashion and the indisputable evidence that his chameleonic offensive game fits snugly into an otherwise indeterminate Timberwolves system.
His rookie extension should reflect both what he has accomplished in his young career against the best of the best and the infinite directions he still has the time to explore.