Minnesota Timberwolves: What should the Wolves do with Jaden McDaniels?

Jaden McDaniels of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Jaden McDaniels of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

To trade or not to trade, that is the question for the Minnesota Timberwolves when it comes to rookie Jaden McDaniels.

As the trade deadline nears, what should President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas do with his surprise asset? The answer may be more difficult than you think.

Minnesota Timberwolves: What should the Wolves do with Jaden McDaniels?

McDaniels has come out of the sludge of Minnesota’s league-worst 9-31 record as a beacon for possible hope in the future. The Wolves acquired the 20-year-old rookie in the Ricky Rubio trade with Oklahoma City after McDaniels was selected with the No. 28 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Minnesota knew McDaniels would be a project and brought him along slowly to begin the season. McDaniels only saw the court in five of the team’s first 11 games of the year.

Jaden McDaniels finally had his breakout game in Minnesota’s heart-breaking loss to Orlando (featuring a Cole Anthony buzzer-beater) on Jan. 20. McDaniels scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked three shots in 26 minutes.

Since then, he’s been a regular member of Minnesota’s rotation and is giving Timberwolves fans hope that their beleaguered franchise may have found a diamond in the rough prospect who can blossom into a foundational piece alongside Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

While his rookie numbers don’t jump off the page at anyone (5.6 points per game, 3.3 rebounds, an assist, and a block on 41.9 percent shooting), those who watch McDaniels see a versatile defender who will grow into a secondary shot creator who can already spread the floor on offense.

That leads to the all-important questions as the trade deadline inches closer: should the Wolves insert McDaniels into a trade offer to snag a bigger star in return, or do you hold on to McDaniels and try to develop him into a future star himself?

The case for the Minnesota Timberwolves to trade Jaden McDaniels

The argument for trading McDaniels is simple: he’s Minnesota’s best young asset that they will be willing to part with (Edwards is untouchable at this point) and adding McDaniels to a trade offer will heighten the chances they land a player they actually want.

In other words, the Wolves likely aren’t prying John Collins away from Atlanta without parting with McDaniels.

If Rosas and Chris Finch truly believe a core of Towns, Edwards, Collins, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley makes them a real contender in the West in the next two years, then, by all means, trade McDaniels. But that’s a heavy gamble on a lot of players that don’t have the greatest track record of actually making a team better.

Towns has never been the best player on a team with more than 36 wins, Russell was run out of Los Angeles, and Golden State was happy to get rid of him for Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick.

Collins is the second-best player on a disappointing Hawks team. And Anthony Edwards has star potential, but is he actually going to be a playoff series-winning player when he’s 21 years old?

It would be a big risk for an executive in Rosas that may find himself on the hot seat sooner rather than later.

The case for the Minnesota Timberwolves to develop Jaden McDaniels

The other option, and perhaps the one that most Wolves fans are hoping for, is that Finch and Rosas see McDaniels’ potential and opt to develop him alongside the young players they already have.

Jaden McDaniels is a versatile prospect who, in a perfect world, will develop into an All-NBA caliber defender with the ability to guard bigs in the post and switch onto smaller, quicker guards on the perimeter. He has also shown the ability to be a secondary ball-handler who can create his own shot and has a smooth 3-point stroke.

A super-sized version of Khris Middleton or Mikal Bridges is the high-end comps for a player as gifted on both ends of the court as McDaniels.

Even though he was a late first-round pick, McDaniels has plenty of talent. He was the seventh-ranked recruit in the 2019 class according to Rivals. For context, James Wiseman was first and Anthony Edwards was third. He had an up-and-down freshman season at the University of Washington alongside Pistons rookie big-man Isaiah Stewart, which led to his fall in the draft.

As a rookie, McDaniels is already second on the team with a -2.9 net rating as well as a +7.5 on/off-net rating, sitting just below Towns in both metrics. If he had played enough minutes to qualify, McDaniels would have the 15th-best block rate in the league, tied with Serge Ibaka.

Jaden McDaniels is the coach’s dream, young, raw, and extremely versatile with enormous upside.
The risk with keeping him in the fold so the Wolves can develop him is, does anyone actually trust the Wolves to properly develop an impressionable young player? They are the worst team of the last 15 years for a reason. Aside from Towns, almost every high-end prospect the Wolves have touched has become a bust to varying degrees.

Next. Future impact of the Wolves buying at the trade deadline. dark

Whether they land on trading him or developing him, the Wolves have nine days to make a tough decision on a player that could potentially alter the trajectory of the franchise — or haunt it for the next decade.