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Jaden McDaniels Illustrated His Value to the Wolves in Win Over Nuggets

He may not be the most eye-catching player on the floor, but Jaden McDaniels is essential to what the Minnesota Timberwolves are building, and he has further proven that so far this season.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Anthony Edwards is the best thing to happen to Minnesota Timberwolves basketball since Kevin Garnett was drafted in 1995.

That’s a statement that most Wolves fans can agree with. Edwards has quickly turned into one of, if not the biggest name in all of Minnesota sports. Yet when the 22-year-old is asked questions about himself, personal or team goals, he is always quick to defer the credit and importance to success on his teammates.

During this year’s media day, our friend Kyle Theige asked Edwards how important it is that his 2020 draft partner, Jaden McDaniels, is a part of the long-term plans. (A reminder that this was before McDaniels was extended last month.)

“Jaden is the most important person on the team, for sure,” responded Edwards. “He has the most potential. I think the world knows we wouldn’t be the Minnesota Timberwolves without Jaden McDaniels. I’m looking forward to him having a phenomenal season.”

McDaniels is probably your favorite Wolf’s favorite Wolf. However, “the world,” as Ant said, has yet to become aware of how good McDaniels. The NBA released a GM Survey before the 2023-24 season began, and it became apparent that McDaniels has yet to make his impact felt on a national level. Regardless, the now 6-foot-11 forward is healthy again and appears ready to take his game to the next level. Will he receive a national spotlight? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter.

After all, he is his team’s heartbeat.

We had to wait two regular season games for McDaniels to make his 2023-24 debut after he suffered a left calf strain while the team was in Abu Dhabi during the preseason. Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped into his place among the starters, which also happened during the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets last season. Alexander-Walker was a revelation after coming over to the Timberwolves as a part of the D’Angelo Russell-Mike Conley trade at the deadline. He provided the Wolves with consistent outside shooting, could operate with the ball in his hands, and stepped up big-time defensively in the playoffs. However, NAW shot just 1-of-9 from deep in the two games without McDaniels this season. Slim’s impact was missed, at least on offense.

Despite the Wolves’ abysmal second-half collapse against the Atlanta Hawks in game three, McDaniels had a terrific season debut, as he finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 from the floor and 2-of-2 from deep. Because he was out for over three weeks and was also battling a cold upon his return, Head Coach Chris Finch and Minnesota’s medical staff had Jaden on a minutes restriction; so when the Hawks, more specifically Dejounte Murray, were making their third-quarter push, McDaniels was stuck on the bench and wasn’t able to defend as much as he would have liked to.

(Editor’s Note: If you are reading this on Apple News, please click here so you can view embedded videos important to the analysis, and enjoy the best overall reading experience.)

Here is a video via the Timberwolves’ YouTube channel of Jaden speaking to the media about how his first game back in the lineup went:

Regardless of the final outcome, seeing McDaniels back on the court was outstanding. It was initially reported by The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski that his calf strain was “minor,” but as we saw from Karl-Anthony Towns last season, sometimes those calf strains can be more severe than they seem. Having Jaden say he was “in no pain” after his first game back was relieving, to say the least.

Due to the minutes restriction, McDaniels didn’t have one of those vintage performances we are used to seeing from him. You know, the whole putting a star player in jail thing that was developed on the glorious place of Timberwolves Twitter.

However, Wednesday night was different. Jaden got his “lick” back.

As mentioned above, we weren’t able to see McDaniels guard Jamal Murray in the playoffs last season, as Jaden was out with a broken right hand. Couple Slim’s absence with Naz Reid’s, and many believe the outcome of that series would have been different if Minnesota was at full strength. Murray averaged just over 27 points, six rebounds, and five assists on 47% from the floor and 43% from deep against the Wolves in the playoffs. The fifth-year guard was able to do more or less whatever he wanted in last year’s postseason. However, credit must be given to NAW, as he did one helluva job containing Murray to some extent.

Wednesday night, Murray didn’t score until there was 1:08 left in the second quarter, as he drilled a pair free throws following a foul on McDaniels with the Wolves over the limit. Murray didn’t connect on a jump shot until there was 8:57 left in the third; he was 0-for-9 from the floor leading up to that point. It was an off night for Denver’s starting guard and the rest of its roster, but don’t let that take away from Jaden’s ability to take Murray out of the game in the first half.

Murray started to settle in and find a groove during the end of the third quarter, which was when McDaniels was forced to sit down with his four fouls. However, it was too little too late, as the Wolves eventually cruised to a blowout win against Denver, handing them their first loss in just under five months.

McDaniels can make you sit back and wonder, “How did he just do that?” But most of the time, it’s going to be Edwards or Towns who will command a lot of your attention. Defensively, McDaniels does all the things no one else wants to, and he takes pride in it. Offensively, he is able to be unproblematic, hit open jumpers, and score with the ball in his hands when need be. Players like that are necessary on winning teams, and if the Wolves hope to build on Wednesday night’s win and blossom into a team capable of making a deep run in the postseason, Slim will need to be at the forefront of everything.

“Jaden. Put it all on Jaden. It was all him tonight,” said Ant when asked about Jaden’s performance vs. the Nuggets. “Defensive Player of the Year, for sure.”