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Can Jaden McDaniels Unlock Another Level for the Timberwolves’ Offense?

Jaden McDaniels is known primarily for his defense, but his offensive skill set is underutilized and goes unmentioned by most. It’s time for the Wolves to get him more involved.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Fourth-year Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels has made a name for himself on the defensive end of the floor, earning his reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league at the point of attack. But his offensive game is severely underrated and isn’t enough of a topic in the conversations we have about the former Washington star.

While McDaniels doesn’t take a ton of shots every night, he is a more than capable scorer given the defensive workload he endures. In each of the last two seasons, McDaniels has shot better than 50% from the floor. Beyond that, Jaden finished last season with a 39.8% mark on 3.4 attempts from beyond the arc, and is following that up by shooting at a 36.8% clip this season on 2.5 nightly fires from deep.

Looking at his shot zones from NBA.com, McDaniels is a talented and efficient shooter from the mid-range and is an excellent scorer at the rim.

Jaden McDaniels shot zones for 2023-2024 from NBA.com
NBA

His unique combination of height and length enables him to finish in a variety of ways over and around contesting defenders, which plays well both in the mid-range and the paint. The Wolves can and should run more designed plays for him that get him the ball within in these mid-range areas and getting downhill to the rim, especially when his matchup is a smaller and/or thinner player.

I understand that when looking at the shot zones for this current season, we have to account for low volume as a result of McDaniels missing half the season due to injury. But when we consider his shot profile from last year, there are some similar trends in the mid-range, and Jaden finished above league average at the rim.

Jaden McDaniels shot zones for 2022-2023 from NBA.com
NBA

If he continues to develop at this rate as career progresses, he can become a Kevin Durant lite in those areas on the floor. he may not ever become that efficient or as deadly as Durant is in those areas, but his ability to rise up and get shots off and not getting blocked because of his size and wingspan will be critical for the Wolves as another solid option on the offensive end of the basketball. With his incredible touch around the rim and above average shooting in the midrange, it adds another wrinkle to a phenomenal offense that is spearheaded by Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, that is also complemented by Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert.

Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch and his staff should run more designed sets that incorporate Jaden coming off screens away from the ball that allow him to catch the ball atop the key or in the slot, and then let him make decisions on how to attack from there. Whether it is McDaniels getting to the mid-range and pulling up, collapsing the defense and kicking the ball to the opposite corner, or getting all the way to the rim, he is capable of making all those plays consistently.

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This type of play exemplifies that. Jaden is quick enough to create separation from his defender, and his length and high release point make it difficult for defenders to catch up. As a result, he often generates clean looks without much resistance.

This play isn’t a designed set with him getting the catch while on the move, but it does show that he is more than capable at creating for himself and getting to his spots. Even though he doesn’t finish the play, he was able to create space and get into an area he has had tremendous success over the last two years. Seeing as he’s an NBA level player, “getting to his spots” sounds easy, but it’s another skill set within itself, and is what separates good players from great ones.

Here is an example of McDaniels using his length to get to the other side of the cup, leaving his feet on the left side and finishing on the right.

The sooner the Wolves can empower McDaniels to more consistently score 13-17 points per game by getting him the ball in places he’s comfortable attacking, the better off Minnesota’s offense will be both in the short and long-term.

It will serve the Wolves well to get him going as another option. Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns are going to get their shots up regardless, and they’ve earned the right to do that. But they are not infallible scorers and struggle at times against elite defenders. Given that McDaniels often draws the worst defender in opponents’ starting lineups, unlocking more of his scoring should not only ease the pressure on Edwards and Towns to carry the load offensively every night, but also unlock new levels for the Timberwolves’ half-court offense. In doing so, that will only bring the Wolves closer to their ultimate goal of advancing deep in the playoffs and bringing a championship to Downtown Minneapolis.