Jaden McDaniels has become a center of attention among underground NBA fans. Why? Because the Rudy Gobert trade sent massive shockwaves through the landscape of the NBA, garnering harsh media reactions. Many were astonished by the overwhelming draft capital given up for the 30-year-old center.
What Wolves fans are screaming—and media members are beginning to whisper—is that Tim Connelly and the Minnesota front office were willing to give up an abundance of draft capital to ensure they hung onto their lanky 21-year-old Seattle native. The secret is out, and there are captivating reasons why withholding McDaniels at the cost of draft picks will be handsomely rewarded.
The Hidden Brilliance Of Jaden McDaniels
McDaniels averaged nearly 26 minutes per game, starting 31. He averaged 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 0.7 steals per game. This volume is a far cry from McDaniels’ recent 50-ball in the CrawsOver Pro-Am.
His cumulative stats are not overwhelming. The casual fan may scoff at the hype he is garnering. Yet, all it takes is one glance under the analytical hood and a telescopic view of his tape to uncover McDaniels’ hidden brilliance.
Jaden McDaniels, The Monster Defender
The very first aspect of McDaniels’ game that requires mention is his unholy mobility and length. Though he is listed at 6’9, rumors have it that he stands at least 6’11 with an over-7-foot wingspan. McDaniels’ length and fluidity make him look as though he is levitating around the court.
His athletic profile has massive implications on his defensive ceiling. Seemingly built in a lab—his functional flexibility, short-area burst, second-jump, and inexplicably quick change of direction ability completely overwhelms unsuspecting offensive players.
McDaniels parlayed his top-shelf traits into being the best rim-protecting wing in the entire NBA as a 20-year-old. There is a lot of Jonathan Isaac to his game, finishing 2nd among non-centers in Rim dFG% vs Expected. This rim-protection metric shows that—based on shot type and location—there is an expected FG% that the average player should shoot at the rim. When going against McDaniels, players shot -7.56% less than expected. This differential adds up incredibly quickly, saving 0.22 points per 75 possessions—dramatically impacting winning over the course of a season.
His analytics playout on tape. Go watch him. He floats, contests, and recovers as well as anyone in the league at his size. He is a freak of nature at peeling off his man to obliterate weak takes with his murderous rim tendencies. He is gifted in pre-rotation. This is where he—the designated help defender—rotates a beat early to take away rolling and flaring cutters. This allows him to anticipatorily stifle offenses and nullify what is still the holy grail of offense, the layup. Fans must consider the enormity of pairing this skillset with Rudy Gobert, the best deep drop defender in basketball. McDaniels' and Gobert's strengths are multiplicative of each other. This marriage will result in exponentially sublime defensive metrics. Teams will be in the depths of hell even thinking about scoring at the rim against Minnesota.
McDaniels is also freakishly versatile and active on the defensive end. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive versatility according to B-Ball Index, splitting his time almost perfectly evenly between 1-4 while still spending 11% of his time guarding 5s. He also ranked in the 96th percentile in defensive miles, working like a robotically programmed box-to-box outside-backer in soccer. Running. All. Game. Long.
The one downside to McDaniel’s defense is his physicality and strength. Barrell chested guards and wings can get into his thin frame and create separation. Thicker bigs can bully him and he has often resorted to fouling to stay afloat on the block. His frame is ripe for adding functional strength and as he progresses into manhood, there is no reason to doubt he will improve in this area.
A Blossoming Offensive Player
McDaniels’ game does not stop at his defensive prowess (though if it did, he would still be enticing). While the Jaden McDaniels experience is essentially defined by him regurgitating some poor guard’s layup, sprinting his lane, and drilling a corner 3 or catching a lob in semi-transition—he began expanding his horizons towards the end of last season.
His blossoming ballhandling is particularly noteworthy. He has a tight crossover and some shockingly legitimate 'hesi-tween' bag potential. He attempted only 1.5 unassisted rim field-goal-attempts per 75 possessions last season. His upward mobility offensively is tethered to his ability to double or triple that number in the next few years. He has the burst and the ability to get low and accelerate past his defender—proving expansion is plausible.
Jaden McDaniels handle + first-step, blows by Chet Holmgren for the dunk pic.twitter.com/xVpG1mw0kb— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) July 30, 2022
McDaniels also flashed some picturesque high-release midrange pull-up ability. He shot 44% on such shots last season. This is a particularly encouraging number that will continue to bolster his ability to attack closeouts and participate in crunch time and playoff offense.
McDaniels and this Timberwolves roster construction have almost supernaturally perfect synergy. As previously mentioned, McDaniels and Gobert will strike the fear of god into hopeful opponents every game. This allows KAT to float around with far less defensive responsibility, freeing him to contribute by ending possessions with his excellent rebounding instincts.
Russell and Edwards will be self-creating a boatload of 3s and playing perhaps less-than-stellar perimeter defense. McDaniels fills every gap offensively, taking advantage of the space those shot-making gurus create. He will also fill any role defensively, locking up perimeter initiators when tasked. The perfect reality of McDaniels' fit enables Minnesota to thread the needle of competing right now while cultivating a spectacularly hopeful future between McDaniels and Edwards.
Jaden McDaniels is now officially the worst kept secret of the Gobert trade. He is worth every bit of extra draft capital that Minnesota had to give up to keep him. Young, jumbo-wings with All-Defense 1st team ceilings are worth their weight in gold. Pairing that with his growing self-creation and shooting, McDaniels projects as the perfect 4th best player on the championship team Minnesota so desperately desires.