Like we’ve come to know with the Minnesota Timberwolves, good things don’t last forever, especially when it comes to collective player health. After a run of 10 games with their full rotation completely intact, the Wolves sustained a big blow in their 117-100 win over the New York Knicks on Monday night.
Star forward Jaden McDaniels badly turned his right ankle on Karl-Anthony Towns’ foot while playing defense in the first quarter of the game. He remained down on the floor writhing in pain for a few moments before getting to his feet, but he quickly understood it was more than something he could walk off. McDaniels moved very gingerly to the Wolves bench (and subsequently back to the locker room) under his own power.
The Timberwolves almost immediately ruled him out for the rest of the game, which is never a good sign. The team then announced on Tuesday afternoon that McDaniels suffered a Grade 1 lateral ankle sprain and that his return to play timeline is 2-3 weeks. The 23-year-old will be re-evaluated in one week.
That brings his availability for the team’s potential run in the In-Season Tournament knockout rounds into question. If the Wolves defeat the Sacramento Kings on Friday, they will advance to the quarterfinals, which will take place on either Monday, December 4 or Tuesday, December 5. The latter is the two-week mark for McDaniels. The semifinals and finals take place in Las Vegas, Nev. on that Thursday and Saturday, December 7 and 9, respectively.
Unfortunately for Slim, this is the second injury he has suffered this season. McDaniels sustained a minor left calf strain while playing over in Abu Dhabi last month, which caused him to miss the team’s first two games of the regular season. The missed time is an uncommon occurrence for McDaniels, who played in 70 and 79 games in the 2022 and 2023 seasons, respectively.
The Federal Way, Wa. native is averaging 9.5 points on 58.2/37.9/100.0 shooting splits to go along with 2.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists to 1.0 turnovers, 0.5 steals and 0.4 blocks in 23.6 minutes per game across 11 appearances, all starts.
His 65.2% eFG% is a career-high, which speaks to how important of an offensive outlet he’s been beside two high-usage stars in Anthony Edwards and Towns. While most will understandably think the team will miss the former Washington star on defense, his offense has arguably been more important to the Wolves. The starting group’s offense struggled profusely during McDaniels’ absence in the first two games of the season and took a major turn for the better once he returned to the floor in Atlanta.
McDaniels has a great understanding of how to play off of all four of the other starters, can break down defenders off the dribble and get to his spots in the mid-range, and is by far the best cutter of the group. Not to mention that McDaniels is following up his 38.6% shooting on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season with a 43.5% mark this season.
Without him, Head Coach Chris Finch will likely turn to Nickeil Alexander-Walker to fill McDaniels’ minutes in the interim. The Toronto, On. native is not new to playing that role, as he replaced McDaniels in the first round of the NBA Playoffs last season, and earlier this season. Finch called NAW an “absolute godsend when it comes to defense and impact off the bench” in a radio hit with KFAN’s Paul Allen on Tuesday morning.
Alexander-Walker played very well in relief on Monday night, scoring 11 points while adding three rebounds and three assists to pair with his usually excellent and reliable on-ball defense. The former Virginia Tech star will have his hands while McDaniels is out, as four of his next six matchups are likely to be Tyrese Maxey, De’Aaron Fox, his cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and former No. 1 overall pick LaMelo Ball. But Alexander-Walker is more than capable.
NBA matchup stats are in from last night.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) April 16, 2023
Nickeil Alexander-Walker held SGA to only six points on 2/14 shooting (14.3%), just two assists, and did not get whistled for a shooting foul on one of the league's most prolific scorers.
Elite defensive performance in a big spot.
NAW holds averages of 5.8 points on 42.6/37.2/33.3 shooting splits, 2.5 assists to 0.9 turnovers, 1.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks across 20.8 minutes per game in 13 appearances (two starts).
Beyond Alexander-Walker, expect Troy Brown Jr. to join the rotation. Brown Jr. played 17 minutes on Monday night, registering five points, five rebounds and a pair of assists. TBJ played in a role for the Los Angeles Lakers last season very similar to what the dearly beloved Taurean Prince brought to the Wolves. Expect him to play rock solid team defense, shoot the ball well in spot-up situations, move the ball, and play well off the catch. More than 50% of his shots have come from beyond the 3-point line in two of his last three seasons, and he shot 39.5% and 59.4% from the corners in those years, too.
The Timberwolves will certainly miss what McDaniels brings to the table, but as Finch said postgame on Monday, this is what you have a deep team for.
Next up for Minnesota is a home matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. Fans can watch the 7 PM tip on Bally Sports North.